Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of diseases that affect the digestive tract, intestines, and bowels. It includes conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The primary symptoms of IBD affect daily digestion, but there can also be long-term complications.

Dysplasia is known to be a long-term complication of IBD. Dysplasia is a general term that indicates an abnormal growth of cells. It can occur anywhere in the body, but with IBD it typically occurs in the colon or rectum.

The growth is considered precancerous. It’s generally discovered during screening procedures, such as colonoscopies, and removed at the same time.

Keep reading to learn more about dysplasia and how to treat it.

“Dysplasia” is a medical term that describes how abnormal a polyp or group of cells in the lining of the colon or rectum looks when it’s exclaimed under a microscope.

Polyps that are more abnormal are considered to have high grade dysplasia. Polyps that are less abnormal are considered to have low grade dysplasia. Since the cells are abnormal, dysplasia is considered to be a type of precancer.

Dysplasia doesn’t cause any symptoms. Having dysplasia doesn’t mean you’ll develop cancer.

Dysplasia simply means there are cells that have the potential to become cancerous. It’s important to have them removed and to discuss what they mean with a doctor.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a risk factor for developing dysplasia in the colon.

This happens because people with IBD experience chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract. This inflammation can lead to abnormal cell formation or low grade dysplasia.

Doctors use several methods to diagnose colon dysplasia. Often, dysplasia is found during screening for colon cancer and colon polyps. Testing and screening methods include:

  • Stool culture: A sample of your stool might be collected and checked for blood or the presence of cancer DNA.
  • Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is a test that uses a tiny camera on a long and flexible tube to examine the inside of the colon and rectum. The tube is inserted carefully through the anus.
  • Virtual colonoscopy: A virtual colonoscopy is a less invasive version of a colonoscopy. It’s done using a CT scan. If a polyp is found during a virtual colonoscopy, you’ll generally need to have a second standard colonoscopy.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: For this test, a slender tube with a tiny camera attached to the end is passed through your anus and into the bottom third of your colon.

Generally, the affected area will be removed during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. If there’s only one area of low grade dysplasia, you likely won’t need any further treatment. However, you’ll still need routine colonoscopies to make sure new areas of dysplasia don’t develop.

If there are several areas of dysplasia, or if there is any high grade dysplasia, your doctor might take additional steps. You might need to have a procedure called a bowel resection to remove part of your colon.

Dysplasia is precancerous. This means it’s not yet cancer and can’t spread or cause harm. But it is considered a sign that cancer could develop in the future.

It’s important to have any dysplasia removed and to ask your doctor about the grade, number, and location of your dysplasia. It’s a good idea to know what a dysplasia finding means for you and how it may affect your IBD treatment in the future.

Your doctor might also want you to start having regular colonoscopies to keep an eye out for additional dysplasia. In some cases, colonoscopies every 3 to 12 months will be a part of your cancer prevention plan.

The exact frequency will depend on how severe the dysplasia was and on any other risk factors for colon cancer you have.

Dysplasia can be low grade or high grade. Neither type is cancer, but both types are precancerous. High grade is more abnormal. It looks more like cancer under a microscope.

Dysplasia can be completely cured. Doctors treat it by removing it during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy procedure. In many cases, this is all the treatment that’s needed. Some people might need more complex surgery and regular follow-up screenings.

Living with IBD

IBD causes uncomfortable symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and cramping. It can also affect your mental health.

Research shows up to 30% of people with IBD have a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. Researchers think the connection between your stomach and your brain could explain why this happens.

If you have IBD and need support, there are some great resources at your fingertips. Check out the links below:

  • Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: Browse the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation site to find online support groups, local meetups, community events, and more.
  • On this website, you’ll find a message board where you can connect with both healthcare professionals and other people with IBD.
  • IBD Support Foundation: The IBD Support Foundation offers a wealth of resources, including an online support forum, community support groups, crisis support, and more.
  • Hoag Virtual Support: Attend monthly virtual support meetings for people with IBD with Hoag Virtual Support Groups. Meetings are run by a clinical therapist or nurse practitioner.
  • Color of Crohn’s and Chronic Illness (COCCI): People of Color with IBD and other digestive conditions can find support and community with COCCI.
  • Girls with Guts: Women of all ages with IBD can find resources, community, events, and more on the Girls With Guts site.
  • Bezzy IBD: Connect with others who are living with IBD and get high quality information on IBD management from the Healthline Bezzy IBD community.
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Dysplasia is a medical term used to describe areas of abnormal cell growth. For people with IBD, these growths often occur in the lining of the colon. They’re considered to be precancerous growths and need to be removed. Dysplasia can be low grade or high grade depending on the severity.

People with IBD have a greater risk of dysplasia than people without IBD because IBD causes consistent intestinal inflammation.

Dysplasia is usually found on tests, such as colonoscopies, and can be removed during these same procedures in most cases. If dysplasia is numerous or severe, the entire affected part of the colon might need to be removed.

People who have IBD and dysplasia will need to have more regular colonoscopies to help prevent colon cancer from developing. Experts recommend people who have had IBD symptoms for at least 8 to 10 years get a routine colonoscopy every 6 to 12 months.