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Study links Celiac to Increased Risk for Lymphoma

Posted Feb 10 2009 10:11am

A study published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Gastroenterology finds that patients with celiac disease and their family members have an increased risk of developing lymphomas. 

Researchers from the Bethesda-based National Cancer Institute and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden evaluated 60,000 patients with lymphomas and found that patients with celiac disease were five times more likely to develop a lymphoma, compared with patients who did not have the autoimmune disease. Family members of people with celiac disease were two times as likely to develop a lymphoma.

Before we get into more study results though, let's back up to make sure you actually understand what lymphoma is. According to the National Library of Medicine, lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. There are several different types, but the type most closely linked to celiac disease is called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Typical symptoms of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma include:

  • Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Coughing, trouble breathing or chest pain
  • Weakness and tiredness that don't go away
  • Pain, swelling or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen

Laboratory tests will help your doctor determine if you have non-hodgkin's lymphoma. The most common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and bone marrow transplant.

Although it remains unclear what the actual link between celiac and lymphoma is, the researchers speculate that celiac disease leads to inflammation and that inflammation drives the development of lymphomas. 

The researchers suggest two key messages from the findings. First, that early detection of celiac disease can help decrease the risk of developing lymphoma. This was evident when researchers examined the link between celiac and lymphoma in the 1970s and compared it to rates today. Finally, people with a family history of celiac disease have a higher risk of developing lymphoma, which may suggest an "underlying mechanism that leads to both celiac disease and lymphoma.

So what's the bottom line? Get tested for celiac disease and if you're positive, routinely test your family members. An early diagnosis and treatment with a gluten-free diet could help prevent developing cancer later in life.

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