Reducing the risk
help reduce risk of cancer
BY LIZ KATYNSKI
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012
The results of two research projects
conducted by Dr. Harminder Singh are
helping to reduce the risk of cancer for
patients with gastrointestinal issues.
The first study, which took place between
2010 and 2012, involved people living
with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),
a condition affecting more than 200,000
Canadians, with as many as 9,000 new cases
Many people with IBD take a class of
drugs called thiopurines (azathiopurine and
6 mercaptopurine) to keep their disease
under control, says Singh, an assistant
professor of medicine in the Departments of
Internal Medicine and Community Health
Sciences at the University of Manitoba's
Faculty of Medicine. Studies have shown
that people with IBD are at a slightly higher
risk for skin cancer. But Singh's study
discovered something new: people who take
thiopurines are at much greater risk for a
more aggressive kind of skin cancer called
squamous skin cancer.
In fact, his research suggests that people
who have IBD and take thiopurines - two
factors that suppress the body's immune
system - are six to 20 times more likely to
develop squamous cell skin cancer than those
without IBD and not taking the drug.
As Singh explains, IBD tends to occur
in younger people who will need to take
thiopurines over a long period of time. They
need to understand that they must take
precautions to protect against skin cancer.
"They need to be cautious of exposure to
the sun," he says, adding that any skin lesions
that develop should be looked at promptly.
"Such simple measures should help reduce
the risk of developing skin cancers. We are
also hoping that with increased awareness,
skin cancers are picked up early because
the earlier they are caught, the better the
A second project, which took place between
2009 to 2010, looked at the effectiveness of
colonoscopies in reducing deaths due to
colon cancer in usual clinical practice. Studies
have shown that having a colonoscopy does
reduce the risk of death from colon cancer
located in the lower part of the bowel. But
the protective effect appears to be less for
tumours that develop in the upper part of
the bowel. There appears to be a very large
variation in the performance of colonoscopy
by different physicians, says Singh. "Our
health-care administrators now recognize the
need to decrease this variation and ensure that
everyone gets similar care, which should lead
to lower cancer rates," he says.
Back to "Research for better health"
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the November / December 2012 issue of Wave