Ulcerative Colitis (UC) Prognosis

Most patients who have ulcerative colitis learn to manage their symptoms and make lifestyle adjustments. Serious complications are rare and most patients do not require surgery.

Approximately 5 percent of patients with ulcerative colitis develop cancer of the rectum or colon (colorectal cancer). The longer a person has the disease, and the more damage to the lining of the colon, the more this risk increases.

If only the rectum and lower colon is affected, the risk for developing cancer is no higher than in the general population. However, if the entire colon is affected, the risk is 32 times higher than normal.

Colon cancer can be detected early using colonoscopy and biopsy to determine if any cells in the intestinal tract are pre-cancerous (called dysplasia). In 2002, new guidelines for cancer screening were established. According to these guidelines, if ulcerative colitis has been present throughout the entire colon for eight years, or has involved the left colon for 12-15 years, a colonoscopy with biopsy is recommended every 1-2 years to check for dysplasia (abnormal changes in tissue).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 04 Mar 2008

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015