Parkinson disease is a risk factor for most cancers in Taiwan

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published December 23, 2015

Key Takeaways

Parkinson disease (PD) was associated with 16 types of cancer in a large-scale study in Taiwan, a striking difference from most studies conducted in Western populations, according to an article published online by JAMA Oncology.

Most of the 25 or more other epidemiological studies conducted on this link were done in Western populations, and showed that individuals with PD had a decreased risk of cancer compared with those without PD.

“Based on this nationwide study on the association between PD and cancer risk, we conclude that PD is a risk factor for most cancer in Taiwan,” concluded researchers at the National Taiwan University College of Medicine in Taipei. “We could not identify PD’s protective role in any single cancer in our study. The finding was nearly opposite of those in most cohort studies or meta-analyses derived from Western populations,” they wrote.  

To perform this study, the investigators drew from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database to create a study group of 62,023 patients newly diagnosed with PD from 2004 through 2010, as well as 124,046 control participants without PD.

They found increased incidence of a number of cancers, with a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.58, in patients with PD. This was statistically significant in 16 of 19 individual cancers, including:

  • Malignant brain tumors (HR 3.42)
  • Melanoma (HR 2.75) and other skin cancers (HR 1.81)
  • Kidney cancer (HR 1.99)
  • Liver cancer (HR 1.89)
  • Uterine cancer (HR 1.83)

Patients with PD also had increased risk for gastrointestinal tract cancer, lymphoma/leukemia, urinary tract cancer, lung cancer, and some hormone-related cancers. However, PD was not associated with increased risk of breast, ovarian, or thyroid cancers.

The authors acknowledged limitations in their research, including possible underestimation of PD incidence, not including smoking status in their analysis, speculation about pesticide exposure, and remaining questions regarding genetic correlations.

The authors speculated that different alterations of PD-associated genes (PARK genes) may contribute to distinct interactions with specific tumor-associated genes that lead to a diverse outcome of cancer development in different ethnic groups.

They called for further studies to determine whether this association between PD and cancer risk also applies in other East Asian populations. “Our findings suggested that different genetic backgrounds and habitual and/or environmental exposures combined resulted in the disparate outcomes,” they wrote. “The study highlights the fact that ethnicity matters in disease pathogenesis.”

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