Celiac disease is not a risk factor for colon cancer or melanoma (skin cancer). Although celiac disease won’t increase the risk for colon cancer or melanoma, it is associated with a higher risk for three other types of cancer, including enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma (EATL), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and adenocarcinoma of the small intestine. Although celiac disease has been found to increase the risk for these types of cancers, it is important to note that developing cancer from celiac disease is quite rare.
To lower your risk of cancer in celiac disease, you should strictly adhere to a gluten-free diet for promoting healing of the intestines. The risk of cancer is greater in older celiac disease patients, as it takes much longer for the intestines to heal.
Factors that contribute to a higher risk of colon cancer in celiac disease patients include a family history of colon cancer, smoking, poor diet, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These risk factors are not exclusive to celiac patients only, however. In fact, they are risk factors for the general population as well.
Research has shown that the risk of malignancy in celiac disease patients is about 1.5 times higher than in the general population. Although certain cancers have quite low incidence rates in celiac disease patients – such as breast, lung, colon, skin cancers – other types have a much greater prevalence.
A Finnish study looked at the data from the Social Insurance Institution along with the Finnish Cancer Registry. The researchers identified 1,626 cases of malignancy in 30,000 celiac patients.
Overall, they found a slightly lower risk of malignancy, compared to the controls.
The researchers concluded that overall risk of cancer in celiac disease patients was not higher than the general population, although the risk was seen to increase after five years.
In an alternative study, researchers found no association between celiac disease and a higher risk of melanoma (skin cancer). Previous research once suggested a link, but recent findings prove otherwise.
The earlier study may have been based on what is known as referral bias, which means participants who join a study are already at a higher risk to develop the condition in question.
The authors wrote, “Although these two conditions share Caucasian race as a risk factor, celiac disease itself does not appear to increase the risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma (CCM) and, therefore, no additional screening measures for CCM are warranted in these patients.”
The study consisted of 29,028 celiac patients of which 78 developed melanoma. When results were compared to the control group, researchers found that rates were the same, implying there was no greater risk of melanoma in celiac disease sufferers.