Diverticulitis and Colorectal Cancer: Is There a Connection?

From an interview with
Dr. Jason Davis
McLeod Surgery Cheraw

Diverticulosis is quite common, especially as people age. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), more than 30% of U.S. adults between the ages of 50 and 59 and more than 70% of those older than age 80 have diverticulosis. McLeod General Surgeon Dr. Jason Davis explains:

“Diverticulosis refers to pouches that form along weaker parts of your colon, believed to be most commonly caused by constipation. There are no signs or symptoms of this condition; in fact, many people living with it don’t know they have it. 

When the opening to a pouch along the colon becomes blocked, infection can occur, resulting in diverticulitis. Common symptoms include abdominal pain with bloating, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and sometimes diarrhea or blood with bowel movements. Symptoms of diverticulitis can last a few hours or as long as a few weeks. 

Diverticulitis is often diagnosed during a medical examination, but it may also require tests such as abdominal CT and labs. Mild cases of diverticulitis can be treated with antibiotics and diet changes. However, serious cases can require hospital admission and even surgery.”

Further complications associated with diverticulitis

The incidences of diverticular disease of the colon and of colon cancer in the United States are high. Diverticular disease and colon cancer have many epidemiological similarities; therefore, the connection between these diseases has been investigated. However, any correlation remains controversial in the scientific community. 

It’s interesting to note that in 2018, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) published a review and analysis of 31 studies in the medical journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Patient participants who had acute diverticulitis, meaning they had localized diverticular inflammation without complications, had a 1.9% prevalence of colorectal cancer. Meanwhile, patients with complicated diverticulitis, including inflammation associated with a complication (such as abscess, fistula, obstruction, bleeding, or perforation) had a significantly higher risk for colorectal cancer at 7.9%.

To learn more about diverticulitis and its complications, speak with a general surgeon near you.