Alzheimer’s Disease May Protect Against Cancer and Vice Versa

As we get older, and care for our parents as they get older, the most feared age-related conditions we face are arguably Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. But researchers at Washington University have just shown that at least we don’t have to fear both of them at the same time; they recently published a paper in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology demonstrating that people with Alzheimer’s disease have a significantly reduced risk of being hospitalized for cancer [1].

Feared age-related conditions

This potential link between these two diseases had been noted for some time, but in this study researchers devoted considerable effort to overcoming the limitations in their previous work. Firstly, they used a population-based sample of 3,020 people older than 65, so their results were not limited to a particular geographic area or socio-economic segment of society. Secondly, they used hospital records rather than informant reports to quantify cancer diagnoses. This controlled for the risk that people with Alzheimer’s disease may be less likely to report their cancers than those without. And lastly, to ensure that they were not seeing less cancer in Alzheimer’s patients because physicians were less likely to look for cancer in people with dementia, or because people with dementia simply die earlier than those without it and thereby avoid cancer, they also looked at cancer risk among people with vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is not neurodegenerative in origin; rather, it results from brain damage due to vascular pathology.