Risk of cancer

Mariah Kay Jackson
What is my risk of cancer related to celiac disease?

Answer


Cancer can be a fear for a lot of people, but understanding the risk factors can help empower you to lower your own risk of cancer. In the US it is estimated that 42 out of 100 men and 40 out of 100 women will develop cancer in their lifetime (1). But does celiac disease (CeD) impact your cancer risk?

It is important to note that many people with CeD fully respond to a gluten-free diet (GFD) and have a normal life expectancy (2).  However, risk factors such as older age, diagnostic delay and poor adherence to a GFD have been associated with enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma (EATL) and gastrointestinal–related cancers, most commonly small bowel cancer (2-5). One study in Sweden, surveying over 47,000 people with celiac disease over 11.5 years, found while the overall risk of cancer was higher in people with CeD, the risk was only significantly elevated in the first year of diagnosis (6). This data suggests that strict adherence to a GFD is important for lowering the risk for developing cancer over the lifespan. More studies need to be done to confirm these results.

Besides adhering to a GFD, what else can I do to help prevent cancer?

Age, in general, is one of the leading risk factors for cancer, as 88% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are individuals 50 or older (1). While we can’t stop getting older (unfortunately), here are some other evidenced-based guidelines on reducing cancer risk from the American Institute for Cancer Research (7).

  1. Be a healthy weight: Central body fat is a risk factor for many cancers and chronic diseases.
  2. Be physically active: aim for at least 150 minutes of activity a week and limit sitting/sedentary time.
  3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains (GF of course!), vegetables, fruits, and beans. Make ½ - 2/3 of your plate these food choices.
  4. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks: Drink mostly water, unsweetened beverages or lower added sugar drinks.
  5. Limit fast foods and foods high in saturated fat, simple starches and added sugar.
  6. Limit red meat to <18 oz/week and little to no processed meat.
  7. Limit alcohol: For cancer prevention, do not drink alcohol.
  8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention: aim to meet nutrients through diet first.

Talk to a registered dietitian or health care provider to tailor these guidelines to you and understand your own risk factors for cancer.

References:

  1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2024. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2024.
  2. Marafini I, Monteleone G, Stolfi C. Association Between Celiac Disease and Cancer. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(11):4155. Published 2020 Jun 10. doi:10.3390/ijms21114155
  3. Elfstrom P., Granath F., Ye W., Ludvigsson J.F. Low risk of gastrointestinal cancer among patients with celiac disease, inflammation, or latent celiac disease. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 2012;10:30–36. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2011.06.029
  4. Green P.H., Fleischauer A.T., Bhagat G., Goyal R., Jabri B., Neugut A.I. Risk of malignancy in patients with celiac disease. J. Med. 2003;115:191–195. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9343(03)00302-4.
  5. Ivanova M, Bottiglieri L, Sajjadi E, Venetis K, Fusco N. Malignancies in Patients with Celiac Disease: Diagnostic Challenges and Molecular Advances. Genes (Basel). 2023 Jan 31;14(2):376. doi: 10.3390/genes14020376. PMID: 36833303; PMCID: PMC9956047.
  6. Lebwohl B, Green PHR, Emilsson L, et al. Cancer Risk in 47,241 Individuals With Celiac Disease: A Nationwide Cohort Study. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2022;20(2):e111-e131. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2021.05.034
  7. American Institute for Cancer Research. 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations. https://www.aicr.org/resources/media-library/10-cancer-prevention-recommendations/

Published June 7, 2024

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Mariah Jackson, PhD, RDN, LMNT. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Mariah Jackson, PhD, RDN, LMNT by providing this information.

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