Going Gluten-FreeOctober 12, 2011

Celiac Disease and Breast Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every October, I lace up my running shoes for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Some years I run. Others I walk. But that’s not the point. Like so many people, I have a loved one touched by breast cancer (luckily, she’s a survivor) and I want to do all I can.

Until recently, I thought of breast cancer and celiac disease separately. That is, I knew it was possible to have both conditions—not long ago I met a breast cancer survivor who also has celiac disease—but I didn’t imagine one influenced the other very much. After all, one originates in the gut and the other in the breast. One is autoimmune and the other is, well, cancer. 

As it turns out, celiac disease may help protect against breast cancer. A new study from Sweden has found that women with celiac disease appear to have a reduced risk of breast cancer—perhaps as much as a 30 percent reduction.

According to the study’s lead investigator, Jonas Ludvigsson, MD, PhD, weight may have something to do with it. Ludvigsson says women with celiac disease are often thinner than other women. Thin women tend to have less breast tissue, and with less breast tissue there’s a lower risk of breast cancer.

Personally, I gained weight after being diagnosed with celiac disease, an experience I understand to be pretty typical and in many cases, healthy. So I wondered, is the reduction in risk only true before celiac disease is diagnosed and treated with the gluten-free diet?   

Maybe not. Ludvigsson says that the reduced risk probably exists both before and after diagnosis with celiac disease, pointing to the possibility of other factors, in addition to weight, that may also be at work.

Whatever the explanation, learning that my risk may be lower is certainly welcome news. But that doesn’t mean I’ll get complacent. Vigilance is key. When it comes to breast cancer, early detection saves lives. So next Sunday, I’ll be racing.

Abstract: “Reduced Risk of Breast, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancer in Women with Celiac Disease,” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.26454/abstract.

 

Comments (4)

Ooop chemo brain, should have said no doctors being able to help. Thanks anyone for any easy to fix. Have given up eating where live as too much of it has gluten in it, breading, etc.

Posted by: barb m | November 17, 2011 6:08 PM    Report this comment

Very interesting. When younger had lots and lots of stomach problems, infertility, etc. and on and on. I am now 70, gone through breast cancer, chemotherapy which helped me lose weight, size 2-3X down to 14-16 depending on who makes the clothes. I was large but large runs in our family. I am now learning more each day and unfortunately did not prevent cancer, hormone receptor positive, but it was abormal in its presentation as it presented as an inflammatory process being red, hot and encapsulated -- good immune system kept it encircled. Having a lifetime of no doctors knowing my problems and now being older, limited income, I find many of the dished presented with too many ingredients. I snack, eat things Ishould not, do you have any easy reipes? I live in TX and not much GF stuff for selection, yes love breads. Any ideas?

Posted by: barb m | November 17, 2011 6:06 PM    Report this comment

Well, I have celiac (6yrs) and I had a recent lumpectomy of an estrogen/progesterone receptive breast cancer tumor. A compromised immune system, I believe, contributed to this diagnosis. I do all the "right" things ie; eat organic, gluten free, no red meat, juicing, fasting, meditating, yoga, walk, bike, etc, etc. But still my B12, D3 and more. . . was in the toilet. It's the fickle finger of fate and not what I ate.

Posted by: Maeshawn | October 13, 2011 5:32 PM    Report this comment

Lack of gluten may also be a contributing factor. Dr David Rakel explains that gluten slows down the processing of estrogen by the liver by down-regulating the CYP450 enzymatic pathway. This then may force estrogen down a less preferred metabolic pathway that is a more carcinogenic route, which in turn raises the risk for breast cancers.

Posted by: Cal-a-Vie H | October 13, 2011 12:33 PM    Report this comment

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