A Better Alternative To Prevention Ulcerative Colitis-Associated Colon Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Compared to current standard of care, U-M researchers find statin chemoprevention with minimal surveillance could prevent 96 percent of cancers

Ulcerative colitis affects about one out of every 2,000 Americans, and after living with the disease for 30 years, nearly 22 percent of those people will develop colon cancer.

For those patients, the current standard of care in colon cancer prevention is frequent colonoscopic surveillance and random biopsies every one to two years, which may lead to the surgical removal of the colon and significantly decrease a patient's quality of life. But a new study from the University of Michigan Health System suggests that there may be better and more cost-effective means to prevent colon cancer in patients with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.

Researchers from the U-M Health System's Division of Gastroenterology examined the cost-effectiveness of chemoprevention of colorectal cancer with statins, a class of medications commonly used to lower cholesterol. The investigators found that statin chemoprevention alone, or with infrequent colonoscopies, may be a more promising strategy for the management of patients with chronic ulcerative colitis than the current standard of care.

Results of the study are being presented today (May 16) at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting in Chicago.


The cost-effectiveness of any strategy of prevention for colon cancer mortality in ulcerative colitis depends not only on the efficacy of surveillance or chemoprevention, but also on complication rates, costs, and quality of life of the patient, says lead author Joel Rubenstein, M.D., M.Sc., a lecturer in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in the Department of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School.

"Surveillance prevents cancer by leading patients to have colectomies, the surgical removal of part or the entire colon, which can significantly decrease their quality of life," says Rubenstein, who also is a staff physician at the Veteran's Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System. "But our study shows the possibilities of other interventions in terms of extending and improving quality of life. It highlights the pitfalls of surveillance strategies and the potential strength of chemoprevention."

For the cost-utility analysis of colon cancer prevention in patients with ulcerative colitis, Rubenstein and his colleagues created a Markov model, a mathematical simulation of hypothetical patients over time. No real patients were enrolled in this study.

The hypothetical patients consisted of 35-year-old men with an eight year history of ulcerative colitis, which was inactive at the time of enrollment in the study. Using this model, the study followed the cohort until age 90 or until death, whichever occurred first.

To determine if statin chemoprevention is more cost-effective than the current standard of care, the study compared seven strategies for colon cancer prevention, including doing nothing, annual colonoscopy, colonoscopy every five years, statin alone, and statin in combination with colonoscopy annually, every five years or every 10 years.

By age 47, 6.3 percent of patients in the "do nothing" strategy, meaning they did not receive statins or undergo surveillance, developed colon cancer. During the course of their lives, 37.5 percent of patients in this group developed colon cancer and incurred an average cost of $103,801 for care.

While annual surveillance without statin chemoprevention prevented 96 percent of cancers, 57 percent of patients in this group underwent a colectomy, and their lifetime cost for care was $103,348.