Previous studies have found a widely variable prevalence of dysplasia and cancer in colonic strictures in patients with ulcerative colitis. Consequently, therapeutic recommendations are conflicting. To better assess the prevalence, we reviewed the clinical and pathological findings in all 27 patients with ulcerative colitis complicated by stricture who were entered into our Inflammatory Bowel Disease Registry. A true stricture was defined as a persistent localized narrowing of the colon found on air-contrast barium enema or on colonoscopy. Upon careful review, 12 of 27 patients were found to have transient colonic spasm, not a stricture, and were excluded. The remaining 15 patients with true strictures represented 3.2% of all ulcerative colitis patients in the registry. Strictures were identified at 13.3 +/- 9.9 years following the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. Eleven patients had multiple strictures that were principally located in the left colon. Of the 15 patients, 11 had dysplasia and two had cancer found on colonoscopic biopsy. Ultimately, six patients had carcinoma found at colonoscopy or colectomy (three modified Dukes' stage A, one stage B, and two stage D). All cancers were at the site of a stricture. These findings indicate that a true colonic stricture in ulcerative colitis is frequently associated with dysplasia and cancer, which can be diagnosed with colonoscopic biopsy. A stricture should be considered a strong risk factor for cancer, requiring intensive colonoscopic surveillance. If dysplasia is discovered, or if the stricture cannot be adequately biopsied, consideration should be given to total colectomy.