Genetic link between neurodegenerative disease and cancers appears to extend to third-degree relatives.

Researchers claim to have verified a previously postulated genetic link between Parkinson disease (PD) and the development of melanoma, and for the first time found an association between PD and an increased risk of prostate cancer. The work, by a team at the University of Utah School of Medicine, suggests the increased risk of cancers extends to both close and more distant relatives of the PD patient. The Utah scientists suggest exploring the genetic links between the diseases could influence strategies for prostate and skin cancer screening. Their findings are being presented at the American Academy of Neurology 2011 Annual Meeting in Hawaii.

The Utah researchers screened the Utah Population Database, which includes data on some 2.2 million individuals over 15 generations. They identified 3,000 individuals with PD as the listed cause of death, and for whom at least three generations of genealogical data were available. When the data was analyzed, the findings suggested that the risk of prostate cancer and melanoma was significantly higher among the PD population than for the general population.

The increased risk of the two cancers also extended to first-, second-, and third-degree relatives, although the melanoma risk did not reach significance for third-degree relatives of PD patients. The results were further validated by the finding that both melanoma and prostate cancer patients and their relatives had a significantly increased risk of PD.

“Neurodegenerative disorders such as PD may share common disease-causing mechanisms with some cancers,” remarks Stefan-M. Pulst, M.D., professor and chair of the department of neurology at the University of Utah. “Collectively, these data strongly support a genetic association between PD and both prostate cancer and melanoma.”

Interestingly, the researchers found PD patients had a decreased risk of lung cancer, but this reduced risk did not extend to their relatives, suggesting that environmental and not genetic factors might be responsible for this inverse association.

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