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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Increased severity of UC symptoms, do I have bowel cancer?

    I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about 5 years ago. Each time the symptoms return they are more severe and last longer, although I have eventually been able to control it with medication. If I can reduce the symptoms with UC medication could I still have bowel cancer? I know that I am due for another colonoscopy,but is there any hurry?
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  • Bowel Cancer Australia is the leading community-funded charity dedicated to prevention, early diagnosis, research, quality treatment and care for everyone affected by bowel cancer. We … View Profile

    Thank you for your question regarding your recent increase in symptoms.  Ulcerative Colitis increases a person's risk of bowel cancer, but considering your increasing pain, it is very important for you to go back to your specialist for further follow up in order to understand what is causing your condition to worsen. It is important you do this sooner rather than later, after all, your doctor may be able to help ease the pain but you also want to minimise the possible damage being caused due to the spasms etc. 
    Kind regards
    Bowel Cancer Australia Nurse Adviser

    Please Note: The information provided by Bowel Cancer Australia’s Nurse and Nutritionist Advisory Services is intended for Australian residents as a reference guide only.  It is not a substitute for independent professional advice and is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or disorder.
    If you believe your symptoms are consistent with those of bowel cancer or a digestive illness, please consult your doctor.
    Bowel Cancer Australia, its directors, officers or medical professionals shall not be liable to any person, company or any other body for any loss, direct or indirect or consequential on whatsoever account for any omission or negligent misstatement.


  • 1


    Dr Andrew Sutherland

    Colorectal Surgeon (Bowel)

    I am a specialist colorectal surgeon treating a range of bowel diseases and am committed to providing the best of care for all patients. It … View Profile

    Firstly having ulcerative colitis does increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.  This risk is increased particularly if there is a greater length of bowel involved with the disease, if the disease is more severe or active and if the disease has been present for a longer period of time (particularly after 7 years of having UC).  

    The symptoms of bowel disease in general are non-specific.  That means that it is not 100% possible to determine the cause of your symptoms based on your description of the symptoms alone.  Diarrhoea, bleeding in the stool, abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue can all indicate active UC that needs to more aggressively treated.  The same symptoms can also be the result of the development of cancer in addition to UC.  

    The simple answer is that you need to see your treating specialist and if you have recently developed increasing symptoms then you will need a colonoscopy to reassess the disease and look for the development of complications such as cancer.  You should have a regular colonoscopy anyway to look for cancer and the frequency of these will be determined by the severity of the UC, extent of your UC and how long you have had it.

    If your episodes of severe UC are becoming increasingly frequent or severe then you may need a change in medication.  This is something else that you need to discuss with your specialist

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