Accutane is a prescription medication commonly prescribed for patients who have a serious or stubborn acne condition, considered moderate to severe by the consulting physician. It is usually not the first line of action, but is tried after the acne has shown to be resistant to other treatments. Although there are generic forms of the drug, there is no over-the-counter version. It must be obtained by a prescription from a physician, and must be taken in the prescribed dosage. The drug works by reducing sebaceous glands, thus slowing production of oil production, by reducing inflammation, by killing bacteria deep in the skin tissues, and by decreasing the cell build-up that causes blackheads and whiteheads. The benefits are long-lasting, but not permanent. Accutane is a treatment, not a cure.
Accutane Side Effects
One reason that Accutane is not the first drug of choice is because it does have several serious side effects. One very grave side effect of Accutane is the possibility of birth defects, so it should never be prescribed for, or taken by, a pregnant woman. Other side effects include hair thinning and loss, severe skin dryness and thinning, eczema, brittle nails, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, menstrual problems, increased sensitivity to sunlight, gastrointestinal problems, and skin infections and conditions such as impetigo. The gastrointestinal problems include diarrhea, rectal bleeding and inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
There are many instances of Accutane patients developing inflammatory bowel disease, even among those who have had no prior history of intestinal disorders. Even after Accutane treatment has been discontinued, the symptoms persist in many patients. Any Accutane patient who experiences rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, or severe diarrhea should stop taking the drug immediately and contact his/her physician. IBD is a serious condition in itself, but has also been shown to have a high correlation with incidences of colon cancer.
Causes of Colon Cancer
Accutane has been shown to cause IBD, and IBD can lead to colon cancer. People with this inflammatory bowel disease have a much higher risk of colon cancer than those in the general population. Although there are many causes of rectal bleeding, this link between Accutane and colon cancer makes it imperative that any patient with a history of taking Accutane and having rectal bleeding needs to be proactive and get checked by their doctor.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer causes rectal bleeding due to the polyps which form on the interior surface of the colon. Polyps start out as small benign growths. However, when they have grown larger in size, they can bleed. Many polyps remain benign, but other types turn into cancer. When diagnosed early, colon cancer is easily treatable, and usually curable. Surgical removal of the polyps is the main treatment at this stage.
As the cancer progresses, cells can invade adjacent body tissues. They can also break off and migrate to other parts of the body such as the liver and the lungs, causing polyps and tumors there also. At this stage, colon cancer is usually treated with radiation and chemotherapy as well as surgery, and is less curable.
Although colon cancer is more common in people over 50 years of age, it does occur in younger people also. Since those who use Accutane are primarily young people, this link could affect the numbers of people under thirty who develop colon cancer.