Background: The risk of colorectal cancer is increased among patients with ulcerative colitis. The magnitude of this increase in risk and the effects of the length of follow-up, the extent of disease at diagnosis, and age at diagnosis vary substantially in different studies.
Methods: To provide accurate estimates of the risk of colorectal cancer among patients with ulcerative colitis, we studied a population-based cohort of 3117 patients given a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis from 1922 through 1983 who were followed up through 1984.
Results: Ninety-two cases of colorectal cancer occurred in 91 patients. As compared with the expected incidence, the incidence of colorectal cancer in the cohort was increased (standardized incidence ratio [ratio of observed to expected cases] = 5.7; 95 percent confidence interval, 4.6 to 7.0). Less extensive disease at diagnosis was associated with a lower risk; for patients with ulcerative proctitis, the standardized incidence ratio was 1.7 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.8 to 3.2); for those with left-sided colitis, 2.8 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 4.4); and for those with pancolitis (extensive colitis, or inflammation of the entire colon), 14.8 (95 percent confidence interval, 11.4 to 18.9). Age at diagnosis and the extent of disease at diagnosis were strong and independent risk factors for colorectal cancer. For each increase in age group at diagnosis (less than 15 years, 15 to 29 years, 30 to 39 years, 40 to 49 years, 50 to 59 years, and greater than or equal to 60 years), the relative risk of colorectal cancer, adjusted for the extent of disease at diagnosis, decreased by about half (adjusted standardized incidence ratio = 0.51; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.46 to 0.56). The absolute risk of colorectal cancer 35 years after diagnosis was 30 percent for patients with pancolitis at diagnosis and 40 percent for those given this diagnosis at less than 15 years of age.
Conclusions: Close surveillance and perhaps even prophylactic proctocolectomy should be recommended for patients given a diagnosis of pancolitis, especially those who are less than 15 years of age at diagnosis.