There are more than 5 million Americans today who are living with Alzheimer's Disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The National Cancer Institute states that in 2010, 13,027,915 American people had a history of some form of cancer. Until recently, these two groups weren't seen to be related in any significant way. However, a new study out of Italy finds that individuals who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease are less likely to have cancer, and those who have cancer have a lower chance of developing the cognitive illness.
The relationship between cancer and Alzheimer's
Researchers from the National Research Council of Italy's Institute of Biomedical Technologies in Milan looked at new cancer and Alzheimer's diagnoses among more than 200,000 people age 60 and older living in northern Italy between 2004 and 2009, according to Reuters. During that time span, slightly more than 21,000 of those individuals were diagnosed with cancer, while another 3,000 developed Alzheimer's disease. Only 161 people were diagnosed with both illnesses.
Comparing these figures with average expectations of cancer and Alzheimer's development, the researchers calculated that individuals with cancer were 35 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Those who had the cognitive illness were 43 percent less likely to be diagnosed with cancer than those who did not.
Though more research is needed to explain the link between these two illnesses, Dr. Massimo Musicco, the study leader, did provide some speculation. He says there are a number of genes that impact both neurology and cancer growth, and certain "pathways" may connect the two.
"These two diseases seem intrinsically related to human aging," Musicco told the news source. "Cancer may be conceptualized as a high tendency of cells to reproduce, which is so high that it is no [longer] controlled. Alzheimer's disease is exactly the reverse. It's a sort of incapacity of neuron cells to reproduce."
For both Alzheimer's disease and cancer, early detection can greatly impact treatment and longevity of the patient. Older adults are at a higher risk for both of these illnesses, and therefore should be regularly visiting their doctor to undergo cancer screenings and cognitive tests. Getting frequent checkups with medical professionals is one of the best ways to foster healthy senior living.