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Celiac Disease and Breast Cancer
October 12, 2011
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.