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    Jefferson Adams

    Risk of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma More Than Double for Siblings of Celiac Disease Patients

    Jefferson Adams
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    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 01/14/2009 - For decades now, doctors have known that people with celiac disease face a significantly greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), though that risk has steadily declined over the last 40 years.

    Recently though, a team of doctors at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., led by Ying Gao, M.D., has discovered that siblings of celiac patients also face an increased risk of developing NHL. Results of the study appeared in the January issue of Gastroenterology.



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    The research team conducted a study using 37,869 patients with NHL, 8,323 with Hodgkin's lymphoma, and 13,842 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia who were diagnosed between 1965 and 2004. The study included 236,408 matched controls and 613,961 first-degree relatives.

    The results indicated that people with celiac disease developed NHL at rates that were 5.35 times higher than non-celiacs, but that they faced no increased risk for developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma or chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

    In some good news, the doctors found that the NHL risk level for people whose celiac disease was diagnosed between 1995 and 2004 dropped to just 3.86 times greater than for non-celiacs. This is a significant improvement over the 13.2 times greater risk of NHL faced by people diagnosed with celiac disease between 1975 and 1984.

    However, the study also showed that siblings of celiac disease patients developed NHL at rates that were more than double those of the general population (2.03).

    Clearly, as diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease has improved, the risk levels for NHL have decreased. The study underscores the need for greater vigilance on the part of both doctors and patients regarding NHL, and for greater understanding of the mechanisms that influence the development of NHL in both celiacs and non-celiacs.

    As diagnosis and treatment and monitoring of celiac disease improves, and as understanding of NHL increases, it is likely that NHL risk levels for celiac patients will drop even further. Until then, celiac patients are encouraged to stay informed, stay vigilant, and to consult with a physician to keep on top of any developments that may influence risk levels for NHL.

    Journal of Gastroenterology, January 2009; pp 91-98.

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    My 34 year old sister died of NHL in 1990. Back then celiac disease was still not recognized as a 'deadly disease'. I'm the oldest (55) sibling in my family. I became celiac disease positive after coming down with double pneumonia in 2004. I am hypersensitive to gluten and artificial sweeteners. My 54 year old brother has MS & celiac disease. My daughter's celiac disease was activated after a severe kidney infection. I have been acutely aware that my chances increase every year that I too will contract NHL. And I've live with the prospect that I passed this nightmare to my daughter and possibly her two sons. No wonder I can't sleep at night and am depressed. This was not the future (retirement) I was looking forward too! I also can help but wonder what living in Denver, Colorado may play because of the high altitude theory. Some research should be done on that being a trigger as well like MS

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    Perhaps the siblings who have the higher risk have some degree of undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. I hope that in the future, gluten sensitivity gets more attention.

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    My grandmother died in her forties of Hodgkin's disease. Her daughter (my aunt) has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and from nine grandchildren, six have celiac disease. Thankfully, this later generation are on gluten-free diets, although we do suffer from various other complications, but non life-threatening. It makes you wonder about the connection.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.


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