2 for 1: Beat cancer (even without chemo) and you beat Alzheimer’s too

A study has found that middle-aged people who are able to survive cancer may be at a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This study builds on previous research that found an association between reduced Alzheimer’s risk and cancer survival.

The study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, included 14,583 individuals who were born before 1949 and had no history of cancer when they joined the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The HRS is an ongoing study that aims to provide researchers with data on the challenges and opportunities of aging.

With an estimated 5.8 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers are hoping that their study will lead to newer and better treatment options for people with Alzheimer’s.

Link between cancer and Alzheimer’s

“We conducted this research because previous studies found a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people with a previous diagnosis of cancer,” said Monica Ospina-Romero, the lead study author and a masters student at the University of California, San Francisco. For their study, she and her colleagues compared the rates of memory decline between people with cancer (before and after diagnosis) and similarly aged people without cancer.

The researchers tested the memory function of the participants every two years for up to 16 years from 1998 to 2014. During this period, 2,250 participants received a cancer diagnosis. The researchers found that those who were diagnosed with cancer performed better on average at the memory tasks given to them than those who did not develop cancer.


Ospina-Romero said that this inverse association was very intriguing. Her team was very excited when their study found that cancer patients had better memory function. Their data further supports the hypothesis that there is a common causal factor between cancer and neurodegeneration that works in opposite ways. (Related: Toxic proteins that cause Alzheimer’s can develop in your liver and kidneys, then migrate to the brain like cancer, shocking new study finds.)

The explanation that Ospina-Romero has for why cancer patients have better memory function is that they may have certain biological and social characteristics that give them some extra protection from Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the limitations of the study make this theory difficult to prove, as Ospina-Romero and her colleagues didn’t factor in the different treatments the cancer patients were receiving. Future research will have to take this into account.

Furthermore, Ospina-Romero and her team found a possible negative effect of chemotherapy on memory. They noted that cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy at the time experienced a decline in memory. According to medical experts, this correlation isn’t surprising.

Kevin Conner, a neurologist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, believes that chemotherapy may be disrupting cell replication, which is necessary for healthy cell function. This phenomenon, he says, has been documented by other research and is likely affecting brain cells.

Diana Kerwin, a specialist in geriatric medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, further adds that many mainstream cancer treatments. such as chemotherapy and radiation, have been associated with cognitive decline.

Study holds promise for Alzheimer’s patients

Ospina-Romero is hopeful that her team’s research can lead to better options for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other neurodegenerative and memory-related conditions. In the future, she plans to get more data on which types of cancer the study participants had, as well as during what stage of the cancer they were in during the testing.

“Sometimes by looking more closely at a result that doesn’t seem to make sense at first, we can learn something really new,” said Ospina-Romero. “If we can identify the common biological mechanisms, we might be able to take advantage of that mechanism to reduce Alzheimer’s and dementia risk.”

Read more stories and studies on preventing and treating neurodegenerative diseases at Alzheimers.news.

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