The Connection Between Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colorectal Cancer
- Years before “Beverly Hills 90210” actress Shannen Doherty, 52, became famous, she dealt with Crohn’s disease during childhood.
- Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract. It can cause diarrhea, cramping, and abdomen pain.
- “When you have Crohn’s and colitis, inflammation in the intestines over time can lead to abnormal growths that can develop into colon cancer,” Dr. Berkeley Limketkai, the director of clinical research at UCLA’s Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, tells SurvivorNet.
- In 2015, Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer. It went into remission in 2017 but returned as stage 4 cancer in 2019.
- Her breast cancer spread to her brain, causing her to undergo surgery to remove a tumor in her brain. Since brain surgery, Doherty’s recovery appears to be going well as social media posts by the beloved actress show her in good spirits, surrounded by loved ones.
Actress Shannen Doherty, 52, has become widely known for her strength and resilience in battling metastatic breast cancer in recent years. However, decades before breast cancer took hold of her life, the “Beverly Hills 90210” actress dealt with another health condition – Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains. It can cause diarrhea, cramping, and abdomen pain.Read More
Doherty’s award-winning acting career began in the early 1980s. Aside from “Beverly Hills 90210” which helped make her a household name, she also starred in “Charmed” during the 1990s.
Then, years later, in 2015, a lump in her breast led to a breast cancer diagnosis, and thus, her cancer journey began, which still demonstrates her strength and resilience today.
Helping Patients With Colorectal Cancer Resources
Crohn’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and Colon Cancer Risk
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are different types of inflammatory bowel diseases that affect colon cancer risk differently. Colitis is a lifelong condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the colon, which can accumulate and damage the colon. Crohn’s disease is also a lifelong condition, but it can cause chronic inflammation in any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus. For some people, that may be the colon, but most commonly, it’s the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. Both colitis and Crohn’s can cause intense abdominal pain and diarrhea, among other symptoms. Treatment can sometimes put these conditions into remission.
WATCH: Misconceptions about colon cancer.
“When you have Crohn’s and colitis, inflammation in the intestines over time can lead to abnormal growths that can develop into colon cancer,” Dr. Berkeley Limketkai, the director of clinical research at UCLA’s Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, tells SurvivorNet.
“If you have these conditions, you can keep inflammation under control and lower your risk by sticking to your treatment plan and staying up to date on recommended screenings.” Dr. Limketkai said.
Colitis causes inflammation in the colon; it raises the risk of colon cancer risk for everyone who has it. That risk increases the longer someone has colitis. As a part of routine care, people who have had colitis for eight years or more may get a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer every one to three years, depending on their level of inflammation.
Doherty’s Remarkable Cancer Journey
Shannen Doherty’s initial breast cancer diagnosis arrived in 2015 after she discovered a lump in her breast. For treatment, she had hormone therapy, a single mastectomy (the removal of all breast tissue from one breast), chemotherapy, and radiation.
In 2017, she achieved remission status, but the disease returned two years later in 2019. This time around, her breast cancer was metastatic, or stage 4.
Having metastatic breast cancer means the cancer has spread, or metastasized, beyond the breasts to other parts of the body. Most often, it spreads to the bones, liver, and lungs, but it can also spread to places like the brain.
“With advanced disease, the goal of treatment is to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth, and improve your quality of life,” SurvivorNet advisor Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said of managing metastatic breast cancer.
“I have so many patients who are living with their cancer. It isn’t just about living but living well,” Dr. Comen adds.
Doherty’s cancer then spread, or metastasized, to her brain. As a result, she’s undergone both radiation and surgery in the form of a craniotomy to improve her prognosis.
WATCH: Aggressive breast cancer in younger women.
As cancer treatments improve year over year, so does the number of people battling this form of cancer that spreads to the brain, says Dr. Michael Lim, who is the Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in brain tumors at Stanford Medicine.
According to Dr. Kimberly Hoang, a board-certified neurosurgeon at Emory University School of Medicine, a craniotomy procedure like Doherty underwent earlier this year is “a procedure to cut out a tumor” on the brain that may be particularly useful “if the tumor is causing symptoms or if it’s large.”
Since undergoing brain surgery, Doherty has focused on enjoying precious time with loved ones as she continues battling stage 4 cancer.