Autism And Cancer Link: Study Discovers Autistic Patients Have More Cancer Gene Mutations But A Lower Cancer Risk

The conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa determined that while autism patients have more cancer-related gene mutations, they are also at a lower risk of developing cancer.


According to Medical News Today, autism is a complex developmental disorder that will typically make itself known during the first three years of a person’s life. This is a condition that impacts a person’s social interaction and communication skills. Statistics show that 1 in 68 children have autism and a large percentage of them are boys.


Dr. Benjamin Darbro, leader of the study at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, did note that the link between cancer and autism is not a new discovery. There has been previous research to confirm a link between the two.

“But what we’ve shown is that this overlap is much broader at the genetic level than previously known and that somehow it may translate into a lower risk of cancer.”

Dr. Benjamin Darbro believes the study team was able to dig a little deeper and learn more about the link between cancer and autism.

Medical News Today reported that the researchers analyzed the ARRA Autism Sequencing Collaboration’s exome sequencing data. This provided the researchers with a wealth of information on gene variation among autism patients.

The data was then compared to information available through the Exome Variant Server database, which houses data on gene variants for roughly 6,500 people who do not have autism.

The researchers discovered that people who have autism had richer, rare variants within the genes that have the potential to cause cancer. The enrichment was not concluded to be tumor suppressor genes, however.


Autism was linked to 94 percent lower cancer risk in children.

Dr. Darbro decided to try to use their data to find out more about the cancer risk among autism patients. Were they at a greater risk because of the genes?

They took a look at the electronic medical records of all of the patients at the hospitals and clinics of the University of Iowa. They found 1,837 patients with autism and 9,336 patients without it.

Next, they looked at the percentage of autism patients with cancer and discovered that these patients appear to be protected from the disease. They discovered that 1.3 percent of autism patients were diagnosed with cancer. This was compared to the 3.9 percent of patients who didn’t have autism and were diagnosed with cancer.

Their research revealed that children under the age of 14 who have autism appeared to be most protected from cancer. In fact, they have a 94 percent lower risk when compared to children who don’t have autism.

Cancer risk gene [Image via Shutterstock]The researchers did take the time to look at the other conditions the autism patients had including diabetes and hypertension. However, they were unable to find a link. The researchers also took a look at the rate of other medical conditions including allergies, heartburn, and eczema. Again, no link was discovered.

Researchers noted that the lack of other links suggests that the protectiveness of autism against cancer has nothing to do with a technical artifact. It is actually thanks to the genetic architecture of the condition.

“Perhaps the most exciting implication here is that already interventions are underway to target cellular pathways shared by many of the mutated genes examined in this study. Thus, drugs known to treat cancer might also treat autism spectrum disorders in the future.”

According to Science Daily, the findings of this research may reveal new ways to treat both autism and cancer in the future. For example, could the genetic variants that appear to protect individuals with autism against cancer be exploited to create a cancer treatment medication? Could the current cancer drugs that target genetic pathways be used to treat autism? Science Daily also reports that clinical trials are currently being conducted to determine whether or not there is a benefit to having autism patients take cancer medications.

[Image via Shutterstock]