Cancer or Alzheimer's disease is seldom something to cheer about. But there may be one positive to come from a cancer or Alzheimer's diagnosis. New research indicates older people who have either Alzheime''s or cancer are less likely to get the other disease.
Although in essence it is a no-win-scenario, researchers at the National Research Council of Italy in Milan, headed by study author Dr. Massimo Musicco, have found that having cancer seems to protect seniors from Alzheimer's disease. The reverse also appears to be true. If you receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, you are at a far lower risk of developing cancer. Dr. Musicco has said, "understanding the mechanisms behind this relationship may help us better develop new treatments for both diseases."
Researchers studied more than one million residents of northern Italy, tracking them for six years. They found a 50% drop in cancer risk for Alzheimer's patients among the subjects age 60 and over, and a 35% reduction in Alzheimer's risk for those with cancer. Additional information suggests a similar correlation between Parkinson's disease and cancer.
It is unclear what is behind this link, and there remains the possibility that both diseases can occur concurrently. Researchers believe the lowered risk results from opposite biological mechanisms of the two diseases. Because Alzheimer's results from brain cell death, it may prevent cancer because cancer forms from uncontrolled cell growth.
The study, which was published in the July 10, 2013 issue of the journal Neurology, did not take into account lifestyle factors, such as smoking, physical activity and diet, which may influence the risk of these diseases.
While receiving a diagnosis of cancer or Alzheimer's disease is never a welcome development, the strange correlation between the diseases could give doctors new clues into treatment options for both conditions.