Understanding the Cancer Risks Associated with IBD Medications

Understanding the Cancer Risks Associated with IBD Medications
A topic that has arisen lately in the Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis community is the risk of some types of cancers due to the medications that we take. Most medications taken by those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) do not present an increased risk of cancer, but some exceptions may exist. Studies suggest that biologics and thiopurines may carry an increased risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer and lymphoma. Biologics and thiopurine medications Many types of immunosuppressant medications, which are used to treat several autoimmune conditions, are available. In this column, I will discuss biologic and thiopurine medications. High levels of a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are associated with inflammation in the digestive systems of those with Crohn's disease. Biologic medications, or anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapies, target those proteins and prevent them from attacking organs. Biologics are an effective treatment for moderate to severe Crohn’s disease to keep symptoms under control and maintain remission. Thiopurines, such as azathioprine, target T-lymphocytes, or T-cells, which are another cause of inflammation in IBD. Both types of medications have shown positive results in treating IBD. When combined, they can be even more effective in controlling symptoms, maintaining remission, and improving overall quality of life. Benefits vs. risks Every medication carries a risk of side effects. A 2012 study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that in those with IBD, the use of biologics increased the risk of melanoma, and thiopurines increased the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer. In a separate study reported in JAMA in 2017, researchers found an increased risk of lymphoma in patients with IBD taking an
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