Is there a Genetic Link between Autism and Cancer?

April 12, 2017
Autism Awareness ribbon

The month of April is dedicated to autism awareness! This initiative brings organizations together and encourages research about the diagnosis and treatment of autism. This year, Autism Awareness Month is encouraging acceptance, inclusion, and appreciation of all people. If you want to get involved, check out the Autism Society’s website. You can also show your support by wearing the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon!

Dozens of genes have been linked to both autism and cancer. For example, one form of autism is caused by a mutation in the PTEN gene – this same mutation is also linked to head, neck, thyroid, prostate, skin, breast, and lung cancer, and much more. People with this mutation have an 85% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. This is because a normal PTEN gene stops cell division, and when there is a mutation, the cells no longer have this control.

About 10% of children with the PTEN mutation also have autism. In comparison, research from the Autism Society found that only 1% of the world’s population has autism. The rate of this condition in people with the PTEN mutation is much higher than that of the general population. This shows that cell growth could play a role in both autism and cancer.

If there is a link between genetic mutations in cancer patients and people with autism, then could autism treatment mirror cancer treatment? Some cancer treatments focus on specific genetic mutations – this is called precision medicine. You can check out our blog post about the standard treatments for liver cancer to better understand precision medicine and targeted therapy.

Researchers theorize that targeted cancer treatments intended for people with specific genetic mutations could also be effective in treating autism if it arises from the same gene. So, if someone has the PTEN mutation and also has autism, then maybe a targeted PTEN therapy could also improve autism symptoms. Researchers are developing clinical trials to test this theory.

For people with this genetic mutation, the best course of action is cancer screenings and prevention!

Since it is Autism Awareness Month, don’t forget to wear puzzle ribbons, spread awareness and acceptance, and celebrate people with autism!

If you’re impacted by cancer in any way, go to our website and utilize our resources. Check out Frankly Speaking About Cancer, which is our landmark cancer education series that provides trusted information about many cancer topics. Through this program, we offer webinars, E-books, an educational radio show, free cancer education materials, workshops, and much more. Go online now!

Another useful resource is the Cancer Experience Registry, a unique online community for cancer patients and caregivers to share their experiences. This is a free, confidential way to learn more about the cancer impacting you or your loved one(s). Join now!