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According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, women with a history of breast cancer are no more likely than other women to develop colorectal cancer.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the US; colorectal cancer is the third. Some previous studies have suggested that women with breast cancer have a slightly increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, but results have not been consistent. Furthermore, most previous studies have not accounted for factors that may influence the risk of both types of cancer (such as body mass index and postmenopausal hormone use).

In order to assess the risk of colorectal cancer among women with breast cancer while accounting for factors such as medication use and body mass index, researchers evaluated information from the UK General Practitioners Researcher Database (GPRD). The GPRD contains computerized medical records for roughly 8,000,000 patients seen by general practitioners in the UK. The researchers used the GPRD to identify women with breast cancer and a sample of women of corresponding age without breast cancer.

For the period 1988 to 2002, researchers identified 17,415 breast cancer patients from the GPRD and a comparison group of 69,660 women without breast cancer. For both groups of women, the researchers collected information from the GPRD about colorectal cancer diagnoses as well as other health information.

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Colorectal cancer developed in 34 of the breast cancer patients and 265 of the women without breast cancer. The corresponding rates of colorectal cancer were 6 cases per 10,000 women per year for women with breast cancer and 8 cases per 10,000 women per year among women without breast cancer. There was still no significant difference in colorectal cancer risk after the researchers accounted for other health information they had collected.

The researchers conclude that women with a history of breast cancer are not at increased risk for colorectal cancer and should follow the same colorectal cancer screening guidelines as other women.

Reference: Srinivasan R, Yang Y-X, Rubin SC et al. Women with a Prior Diagnosis of Breast Cancer Are Not at an Increased Risk for Subsequent Colorectal Cancer. American Journal of Gastroenterology . 2005;100:1-6.

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