Cancer survivors are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than people without cancer, research suggests. According to a report published in the BMJ, scientists have discovered an inverse relationship between cancer and this neurodegenerative disorder. This important discovery could expand therapeutic boundaries used to treat these ailments.
Jane Driver, from the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center and Boston VA Medical Center, led a team which was investigating cancer risk among participants in a long term cohort study when they made the connection.
The researchers chose a sample of people whom were part of the original Framingham Heart Study which began in 1948. All of the 1278 volunteers selected for Driver's experiment were aged 65 or older with and without a history of cancer and dementia free during an 1986 - 1990 examination cycle.
The Curious Relationship Between Dementia and Cancer
During ten years of follow up, the scientists reported that 221 cases of Alzheimer's were diagnosed. They also observed that cancer survivors had a 33% lower risk of Alzheimer's than people without cancer.
Surprisingly, the risk of Alzheimer's was lower among smoking related cancer survivors than people with non-smoking related cancer. On the downside, smoking related cancer survivors were much more likely to have a stroke than cancer survivors who didn't smoke.
Driver's team reasoned that smoking related cancer might provide survivors with protection against Alzheimer's disease and other forms of neurodegeneration. They pointed out that a meta-analysis of 107,598 Parkinson's disease patients revealed a lower rate of smoking related cancer among people with Parkinson's.
Driver's team concluded that a person's vulnerability to neurodegeneration might protect them from cancer, likewise vulnerability to cancer could save one from the degenerative nerve conditions. Such an inverse relationship could "lead to novel therapies which and should remain a focus of intense basic and translational research."
Nonetheless, they cautioned that their work was exploratory and that more research was necessary to better understand the connection between Alzheimer's disease and individual types of cancer.
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Driver, J., Beiser, A., Au, R., Kreger, B., Splansky, G., Kurth, T., Kiel, D., Lu, K., Seshadri, S., & Wolf, P. (2012). Inverse association between cancer and Alzheimer's disease: results from the Framingham Heart Study BMJ, 344 (mar12 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e1442
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