Patients with chronic colitis (ulcerative colitis or colonic Crohn's disease) have an increased risk of colorectal cancer (CRC). Although most of the molecular alterations reported in sporadic CRC have also been observed in colitis-associated CRC, they do not occur at the same timing and frequency, indicating a different pathophysiology. In particular, recent work highlighted the importance of chronic mucosal inflammation as a key factor favouring colorectal carcinogenesis in these patients. This may also be one of the reasons explaining the role of 5-aminosalicylates as chemopreventive agents for CRC in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients with colonic involvement. Beside chemoprevention, colonoscopic screening and surveillance have been shown to be the cornerstone for CRC prevention and early detection in this particular patients' population. Periodic surveillance colonoscopy to detect dysplasia has been shown to decrease the mortality attributed to CRC. More recently, progress in imaging techniques increased our ability to identify dysplasia, and should probably now be considered to be an integral part of surveillance colonoscopy. In the future, further improvement of our knowledge of CRC biology, refinement of imaging techniques, as well as molecular discovery (e.g. identification of specific mutations in stool DNA extracts), might lead to develop more accurate diagnostic strategies to reduce the morbidity and mortality related to CRC in patients with ulcerative colitis or colonic Crohn's disease.
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