Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects approximately 3 million people in the United States, and if you are among them and are male, you should know this: researchers have noted a relationship between IBD and prostate cancer in men. Here’s what experts know thus far.
IBD and prostate cancer
Past research has shown that people who have IBD have an increased risk of developing cancers related to the gastrointestinal system. However, any association between IBD and prostate cancer has been less clear. That’s why researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, conducted a recent study, which appears in European Urology.
One factor experts had noticed prior to this study is that men with inflammatory bowel disease often have higher levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein whose level is used to help screen for prostate cancer. These elevated levels could be related the chronic inflammation that typically accompanies gastrointestinal conditions. It has even been proposed that C-reactive proteins, which cause inflammation, may elevate PSA levels when prostate cancer is not present.
Yet investigators still wondered whether high PSA levels in men with IBD was a warning sign for prostate cancer. Therefore, 1,033 men with IBD and 9,306 men without IBD were followed for an average of 18 years. When the study began, the average age of the men was 53.
Here’s what the investigators found: The risk of prostate cancer among men with IBD was about five times higher than it was for men without IBD. But why?
Although this study did not directly address this question, this did not stop the authors from theorizing. One idea is that instead of chronic inflammation being a cause, the higher risk may be associated with reduced immune system function. Because people with IBD often take drugs that reduce the body’s immune response, men may be at greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
Another possibility is related to genetics. Both IBD and prostate cancer have an important genetic component, and it’s possible that some of the genes can be found in both diseases.
Why the IBD and prostate cancer study is important
The findings of this study indicate that physicians should screen men with IBD and elevated PSA more carefully for prostate cancer. More research is needed so clinicians can better understand the relationship between IBD and prostate cancer. If you have IBD, be sure to discuss your PSA levels with your physician.
Burns JA et al. Inflammatory bowel disease and the risk of prostate cancer. European Urology 2018 in press
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inflammatory bowel disease. Data and statistics