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BACKGROUND:5-aminosalicylates (5-ASA) are widely used in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but emerging evidence suggests that they may be safely withdrawn in significant subsets of patients. This is important to address: 5-ASA therapy accounts for up to 25% of total healthcare costs in ulcerative colitis (UC), while almost a third of patients with Crohn's disease (CD) receive long-term 5-ASA despite no clear evidence of benefit. Further, rationalising medication burden may improve overall adherence and outcome. AIMS:To summarise the rationale for 5-ASA withdrawal, review the current evidence in both UC and CD and consider the data surrounding colorectal cancer (CRC) prevention, guiding an evidence-based withdrawal strategy. METHODS:PubMed was searched to identify relevant studies. Only papers published in English were reviewed, with priority given to randomised clinical trials and meta-analyses. RESULTS:For patients with UC, consideration of 5-ASA withdrawal should be made on a case-by-case basis, but it appears safest for those in deep remission without any of the following risk factors: younger age (<40 years), remission for less than 2 years, a history of multiple flares, extensive disease. 5-ASA withdrawal should also be considered in patients with UC escalated to biologic therapy who have achieved remission and in all patients with CD. Although 5-ASA therapy may have chemopreventive benefits for CRC, the cost-benefit ratio appears significant, and this indication is not justified by evidence in those who have achieved remission and are continuing therapy with other agents, or in those in sustained remission without a history of extensive disease. CONCLUSIONS:Although the majority of patients with IBD receive 5-ASA during their disease course, safe withdrawal appears possible in many, with important implications for both health economics and patient experience. A number of unanswered questions, however, remain.

Original publication




Journal article


Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics

Publication Date





73 - 84


Translational Gastroenterology Unit, Nuffield Department of Experimental Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Humans, Colorectal Neoplasms, Colitis, Ulcerative, Crohn Disease, Aminosalicylic Acids, Withholding Treatment, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic