We have known for years that untreated celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, and many other conditions, including dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, heart disease, and intestinal cancers. In the first comprehensive study of its kind including 478,753 participants, entitled Immune-Mediated Diseases Associated With Cancer Risks, researchers investigated the possible association between 48 immune-mediated diseases and the risk of cancer. The study findings regarding celiac disease are consistent with what prior research has confirmed: celiac disease is associated with an increased risk of small intestine cancer. This study also concluded an increased risk of cancer in several other immune-mediated diseases, such as: asthma with lung cancer, Crohn’s disease with liver cancer, autoimmune hepatitis with tongue cancer, and ulcerative colitis with prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and tongue cancer.  

While this large-scale analysis did determine a strong correlation between celiac disease and small intestine cancer, “that is a very rare cancer – in fact, only 3 such cancers were reported in people with celiac disease in this study. So even though the relative risk of that cancer is increased in people with celiac disease, its rarity makes it very unlikely to occur, celiac or not,” explains Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, Director of Clinical Research, Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, and Celiac Disease Foundation Young Investigator Awardee.  

Dr. Lebwohl served as lead author on a similar recent study of the risk of cancer in celiac disease patients. The study, titled Cancer Risk in 47,241 Individuals With Celiac Disease: A Nationwide Cohort Study, also found an increased cancer risk in celiac disease patients, though the risk was only significantly elevated in the first year after celiac disease diagnosis, and in those diagnosed with celiac disease after age 40.  

Celiac disease patients are at an increased risk, albeit small, of cancer, and the findings from these studies confirm the importance of a healthy immune system in cancer prevention. For patients with celiac disease, adhering to a strict, gluten-free diet is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system. Studying the long-term health effects of celiac disease continues to be important while we work toward a cure. If you would like to participate in celiac disease research, add your data to our iCureCeliac® patient registry today. iCureCeliac® is a free online portal for patients, or their caregivers, to provide critical insights into life with celiac disease. Your participation will help create better diagnostic tools and treatments for cross-contact and gluten consumption, governmental policy changes, and access to new and innovative clinical trials nationwide, which may, one day, cure celiac disease. 

To read the full study, Immune-Mediated Diseases Associated With Cancer Risks, click here 

To read the full study, Cancer Risk in 47,241 Individuals With Celiac Disease: A Nationwide Cohort Study, click here.