Medicine has had bad news for coeliac disease sufferers for the longest time. They were supposed to be twice as likely to suffer an early death, and they were in line for lymph cancers, such as Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
But new research suggests that coeliac disease sufferers were more likely to worry themselves to death with all the bad news medicine was telling them than from the diseases they were supposed to develop.
Researchers have decided that the early studies that frightened the life out of sufferers were too small or not scientifically structured to produce meaningful results.
When they looked at a group of 4,732 coeliac disease sufferers, the researchers found a slight increased risk of early death or of gastrointestinal and lymph cancers, but this risk disappeared after the first year that coeliac allergy was diagnosed. Only lymph cancers continued to be a slight risk after that. Paradoxically sufferers also had a much lower risk of developing breast cancer than those without the allergy.
To judge risk, the researchers tested the health profile of sufferers against a control group of 23,620 people from the general population with similar profiles. They excluded from the controls those who had a general gluten problem, including those who ate a gluten-free diet.
But now a major risk has been reduced to a slight one, could that difference be ironed out completely by a simple observation: people with coeliac disease are more likely to go to the doctor, and so are these cancers detected sooner? It certainly seems possible, and it explains why most cancer 'risks' disappear after the first year. Just a thought.