A new study finds that people with celiac disease with continuing intestinal damage have four times the risk of lymphoma as the general population.
Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study involved more than 7,600 people with celiac disease. Each individual had a follow-up intestinal biopsy six months to five years after initial diagnosis, and the study group was followed for nine years. The researchers discovered that people whose intestines were not fully healed at the time of their follow-up biopsy had a greater risk of developing lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Their annual risk of lymphoma was found to be 102 per 100,000 people, considerably higher than the risk for people with celiac disease whose intestines had healed on the gluten-free diet (31.5 per 100,000) as well as the general population (24 per 100,000).
The average risk for lymphoma for all people with celiac disease was found to be 68 per 100,000, almost three times higher than the general population. However, the study authors emphasize that despite the fact there is increased lymphoma risk, the overall risk remains quite low. The vast majority of people with celiac disease, damaged intestines or not, will never develop lymphoma.
One notable finding was that ongoing intestinal damage was observed even in individuals who had been adhering to a strict gluten-free diet. Researchers are not sure why this is, but it suggests that there may be other factors contributing to intestinal damage in celiac disease, aside from the ingestion of gluten.
“Our findings linking the follow-up biopsy result to lymphoma risk will lead us to redouble our efforts to better understand intestinal healing and how to achieve it,” said Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, lead study author and a member of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University.