A large scale study has revealed surprising new evidence about the link between celiac disease and gastrointestinal cancers. According to the research, individuals with celiac disease – whether they had villous atrophy, inflammation or were latent cases – had no increased risk of GI cancers after 1 year of follow-up. While this comes as a relief, an accompanying editorial from celiac disease experts noted that individuals with celiac disease still face an elevated risk of developing other cancers and that additional studies are needed to explore GI cancer risks in the long term, as well as influence the development of cancer screening recommendations for individuals with celiac disease.
Published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the study analyzed data from three groups of celiac patients:
1. Individuals with celiac disease who had exhibited villous atrophy at time of diagnosis
2. Individuals with celiac disease who had exhibited inflammation but no villous atrophy at time of diagnosis
3. Individuals with latent celiac disease, defined as having positive blood tests but no inflammation or villous atrophy
The researchers found that while the risk of GI malignancy is increased at the time of diagnosis, there was no significant increased risk after the first year. Even more surprising, as the editorial pointed out, was that individuals with latent celiac disease actually had a lower risk of GI cancer after 1 year follow-up than individuals in the control group.
Celiac disease experts noted that while this is an important finding, doctors should still monitor for symptoms of GI cancers in individuals with celiac disease. In addition, long-term studies are needed to further explore the links between celiac and other "solid organ" cancers, the experts noted.
Finally, while GI cancer risk may be lower than originally thought, other specific cancer risks remain a concern: “…celiac disease remains associated with both small intestinal cancer and primary liver cancer after the first year of follow-up,“ the editorial stated.
To learn more about this study, read the abstract and the accompanying editorial. You can also read about it on the AGA Journals Blog.