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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What does Cancer Risk and Autism tell us?


Today’s post is a short one.

As you look deeper into how the body functions you come across many, only recently understood, pathways.  In reality these are still “works in progress”, but some will eventually lead to a better understanding of diseases like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and, eventually, many types of autism.

Within this blog we have seen how many common diseases share some underpinnings with autism.  As a result these diseases appear more commonly in people with autism, and so they get called comorbidities.

Some comorbidities get talked about quite a lot, things like epilepsy and MR/intellectual impairment.

For me the really interesting ones and the ones that might actual lead you to some therapeutic implication.  In this respect, allergies (food and airborne) have proved to be the most useful.

Not far behind are heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

In Paul Whiteley’s blog he recently highlighted a study showing how heart disease was increased in autism.  This has been noted before and I believe leads back to calcium channels, known to be dysfunctional in autism.  One particular channel is called Cav1.2 and it is widely expressed in the brain and the heart.  In earlier posts I have covered this channelopathy from the point of view of autism.  Not surprisingly, if you have Cav1.2 dysfunction in the brain, it might very well occur elsewhere.

There are little genetic errors called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNPs.  In the CACNA1C gene there are 12,932 known SNPs.  Some of the most common ones are associated with autism, bipolar and schizophrenia.

You can look up this gene, or any other one, and see for yourself.












If you read the gene description above, the idea that heart disease is comorbid with autism is no surprise. 

The lower red arrow points at hypokalemic periodic paralysis.  This has appeared many times on this blog, along with Hypokalemic Sensory Overload.  I discovered long ago that there is a potassium ion channel dysfunction in autism; it appears to be behind the odd sensory overload experienced by many with autism and also in some people with ADHD.  What is interesting is that this dysfunction co-occurs with CACNA1C dysfunctions.


Cancer and Autism

The science behind cancer is complex and so as not to research it in vain, it is useful to know that there is solid evidence linking autism and cancer.

The following study of 8,438 people with autism, compared their incidence of cancer with the incidence in the general population

To understand the jargon first read this excerpt from a fact sheet on cancer statistics:



The expected number is calculated by multiplying each age-specific cancer incidence rate of the reference population by each age-specific population of the community in question and then adding up the results. If the observed number of cancer cases equals the expected number, the SIR is 1. If more cases are observed than expected, the SIR is greater than 1. If fewer cases are observed than expected, the SIR is less than 1.

Examples:

60 observed cases / 30 expected cases: the SIR is 60/30 = 2.0

Since 2.0 is 100% greater than 1.0, the SIR indicates an excess of 100%.
45 observed cases / 30 expected cases: the SIR is 45/30 = 1.5

Since 1.5 is 50% greater than 1.0, the SIR indicates an excess of 50%.

30 observed cases / 30 expected cases: the SIR is 30/30 = 1.0

A SIR of 1 would indicate no increase or decrease.



Here is the autism study:-



Objectives
To investigate whether individuals with autism have an increased risk for cancer relative to the general population.
Study design
We enrolled patients with autistic disorder from the Taiwan National Health Insurance database in years 1997-2011. A total of 8438 patients diagnosed with autism were retrieved from the Registry for Catastrophic Illness Patients database. The diagnosis of cancers was also based on the certificate of catastrophic illness, which requires histological confirmation. The risk of cancer among the autism cohort was determined with a standardized incidence ratio (SIR).
Results
During the observation period, cancer occurred in 20 individuals with autism, which was significantly higher than a total number of expected cancers with a SIR estimate of 1.94 (95% CI 1.18-2.99). The number of cancer in males was greater than the expected number with a SIR of 1.95 (1.11-3.16), but no excess risk was found for females with a SIR of 1.91 (0.52-4.88). Cancer developed more than expected in individuals age 15-19 years with the SIR of 3.58 (1.44-7.38), but did not differ in other age range groups. The number of cancers of genitourinary system was significantly in excess of the expected number (SIR 4.15; 95% CI 1.13-10.65), and increased risk was found in ovarian cancer with SIR of 9.21 (1.12-33.29).
Conclusions
Our study demonstrated that patients with autistic disorder have an increased risk of cancer.


So, overall, the risk of all cancers is about twice as high if you have autism.  

Certain cancers are particularly high risk and understanding why this is the case might lead to a better understanding of the “pathways” leading to some types of autism. Due to the rarity of some cancers, like ovarian, one might need to validate the result; note the (1.12-33.29) range for ovarian cancer.

Rather than worry about this risk, we should use these observations to understand and treat autism.

Just as we can counter the elevated risk of heart disease we can do the same for cancer.

Clearly the cancer pathways that will soon be appearing in this blog are relevant to autism.  But in the meantime anyone can reduce their cancer risk by ensuring a high level of antioxidants in their body.  People at higher risk are those with low levels of antioxidants, which include almost all older people and people of all ages with autism.

A vast wealth of information already exists showing the chemo-protective effect of antioxidants.  Cancer clearly generally results from multiple hits, and you may be unlucky to have a single gene that “ups” your risk.  By upping your antioxidant intake you can slash one risk, in this multiple step process.

It does not seem to matter which potent antioxidant you take, but you do need enough of it.  They are all slightly different and most likely a mix of several will yield the best result.

My current favourites are:-

·        NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
·        ALA (Alpha lipoic acid) - Nrf2 activator
·        Sulforaphane – Nrf2 activator
·        Cocoa Flavanols
·        Lycopene (cooked tomato)

These should reduce both the risk of cancer risk and heart disease.
Other antioxidants mentioned in this blog include:-

·        L-Carnosine
·        Silibinin – Nrf2 activator
·        Selenium

One should be aware that avoiding cancer and treating an existing cancer are different tasks.  Once a cancer has developed, some antioxidants can interfere with the body’s own response mechanism.

My focus is preventative “medicine”.

We saw in an earlier post how children at risk of developing asthma could be identified by their atopic dermatitis.  By treating these children with a cheap mast cell stabilizer called Ketotifen, a trial showed how it was possible to avoid the onset of asthma.

I suspect that the same thing might be possible with epilepsy.  We saw in an earlier post that the first epileptic attack make a (epigenetic?) change, and thereafter there is a greatly increased risk of future seizures.

Other interesting preventative interventions, include statins to avoid Parkinson’s disease and Verapamil to avoid the onset of Type II diabetes.

I did explain all this to the European Medicines Agency some months ago, the idea of treating the comorbidities of autism BEFORE they occur.  Perhaps an idea before its time?








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