Celiac disease specialist, Dr. Stefano Guandalini, addresses the cancer issue.
You may know that having celiac disease increases your risk of developing intestinal cancer.
This is because as celiac disease progresses, the damage to the inner lining of the small intestine progresses, making it more vulnerable to cancer.
I wondered, however, if merely having the gene(s) for celiac disease could somehow raise the risk of cancer.
The gene(s) for celiac disease has been identified, and if you do not have the gene, you cannot get CD.
However, having the gene does not guarantee you will develop this illness, either, which is when the body mounts an ongoing immune response to the consumption of gluten-containing foods.
So does having the celiac gene, in and of itself, predispose a person to a higher risk of cancer?
“It does not appear that this is the case; there is in fact no evidence that intestinal malignancies occur more frequently in people with only the gene(s),” says Stefano Guandalini, MD, Founder and Medical Director, The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
Mayoclinic.com states: People with celiac disease who don’t maintain a gluten-free diet also have a greater chance of getting one of several forms of cancer, including intestinal lymphoma and bowel cancer.
Suppose you find out that you have the genetic predisposition to CD, but you are not experiencing symptoms of this disorder, which include digestive disturbances such as diarrhea; joint pain; mouth sores; muscle cramps; tingling in the feet and legs; anemia; unexplained weight loss and grayish stools. Should you go gluten-free?
Most people with celiac disease do not have symptoms, so if you have the gene(s) for this condition, yet feel perfectly fine, the illness may still be in full swing. And in that case, you do have a heightened risk for certain cancers.
If you have the gene for celiac disease yet no symptoms, it would not be practical, at that point, to eliminate gluten-containing foods.
After all, only about 5 percent of people with the gene actually develop CD.
“First-degree relatives of those with biopsy-diagnosed celiac disease who have the genetic predisposition are a high-risk group that should be screened every three years or immediately upon symptoms,” says Dr. Guandalini.
An antibody blood test called transglutaminase is used for screening. But in rare cases, this test can be negative in someone who has the illness.
The gold standard for diagnosis is an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine.
You will need to discuss your options with a gastroenterologist, especially if family members have celiac disease.
Dr. Guandalini’s scientific and professional career has focused on celiac disease. He’s also professor of pediatrics, chief, Section of Gastroenterology, The University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.