Good Cancer News for Celiac Patients

Colon cancer incidence rates low in celiac patients


A gluten-free diet can control or eliminate the painful symptoms of celiac disease. Now, there is more good news for celiac disease patients, especially the ones who eat gluten-free.

Celiac disease is a condition where the small intestine is damaged by an immune reaction caused by eating gluten. Patients with celiac disease are at an increased risk for cancer of the esophagus and small intestine.

However, a recent study found that the risk for colon cancer in celiac disease patients is very low and even lower in those who eat a strictly gluten-free diet.

Ask your doctor about colon cancer screening.

Marco Silano MD, from the Department of Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, in Rome, Italy and a group of researchers conducted the study.

The study enrolled 1757 patients with celiac disease between 1982 and 2006. The average age at enrollment was about 37 years old. About 75 percent of the patients in the study were females.

Information was collected on the patients at the beginning and throughout the study that included health information and how well the patients kept to a gluten free diet. The average follow up lasted 18 years.

The researchers used the information on gluten consumption to split the patients into four groups: a group who strictly ate gluten-free food, those who ate up to four gluten-containing meals a month, a group who ate 5 to 10 gluten meals a month and a group who ate more than 10 gluten meals a month.

Sixty-three percent of the patients ate a strictly gluten-free diet.

During the study period, six patients developed colon cancer. The researchers calculated the occurrence rate for colon cancer in celiac patients to be 71 percent lower than in the general population.

Patients who ate a strictly gluten-free diet had an even lower occurrence of colon cancer.

The calculated occurrence of colon cancer in these patients was 93 percent less than the general population.

Among the patients who ate a strictly gluten-free diet, colon cancer was diagnosed at a much later age than in those who ate gluten. Their average age at colon cancer diagnosis was 63, compared to an average age of 37 in the patients who ate more than 10 gluten-containing meals a month.

The authors noted that a limitation of their study was that they did not have data on smoking and body size of the study participants. Both are risk factors for colon cancer.

Summing up their findings, the authors concluded that the risk of developing colon cancer in celiac patients was low and was even lower in patients who followed a strict gluten-free diet.

The research was published in the March issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology.

Funding for the study came from the Collaborating Centres of the Italian Registry of the Complications of Celiac Disease.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed by the authors.