BACKGROUND Refractory coeliac disease type II (RCDII) frequently transforms into an enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma (EATL) and therefore requires intensive treatment. Current evaluated treatment strategies for RCDII include cladribine (2-CdA) and autologous stem cell transplantation (auSCT). OBJECTIVE The purpose of this study was to evaluate long-term survival and define clear prognostic criteria for EATL development comparing two treatment strategies. METHODS A total of 45 patients were retrospectively analysed. All patients received 2-CdA, after which they were either closely monitored (monotherapy, n = 30) or a step-up approach was used including auSCT (step-up therapy, n = 15). RESULTS Ten patients (22%) ultimately developed EATL; nine of these had received monotherapy. Absence of histological remission after monotherapy was associated with EATL development (p = 0.010). Overall, 20 patients (44%) died with a median survival of 84 months. Overall survival (OS) within the monotherapy group was significantly worse in those without histological remission compared to those with complete histological remission(p = 0.030). The monotherapy group who achieved complete histological remission showed comparable EATL occurrence and OS as compared to the step-up therapy group (p = 0.80 and p = 0.14 respectively). CONCLUSION Histological response is an accurate parameter to evaluate the effect of 2-CdA therapy and this parameter should be leading in the decisions whether or not to perform a step-up treatment approach in RCDII.