Inverse association between cancer and neurodegenerative disease: review of the epidemiologic and biological evidence

Biogerontology. 2014 Dec;15(6):547-57. doi: 10.1007/s10522-014-9523-2. Epub 2014 Aug 12.


Growing evidence suggests an unusual epidemiologic association between cancer and certain neurological conditions, particularly age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Cancer survivors have a 20-50% lower risk of developing Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, and patients with these neurodegenerative conditions have a substantially lower incidence of cancer. We review the epidemiologic evidence for this inverse co-morbidity and show that it is not simply an artifact of survival bias or under-diagnosis. We then review the potential biological explanations for this association, which is intimately linked to the very different nature of dividing cells and neurons. The known genetic and metabolic connections between cancer and neurodegeneration generally fall within two categories. The first includes shared genes and pathways such as Pin1 and the ubiquitin proteasome system that are dysregulated in different directions to cause one disease or the other. The second includes common pathophysiological mechanisms such as mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress and DNA damage that drive both conditions, but with different cellular fates. We discuss examples of these biological links and their implications for developing new approaches to prevention and treatment of both diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Aging / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / epidemiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology
  • Epidemiologic Factors
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / metabolism
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / epidemiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / epidemiology
  • Parkinson Disease / etiology
  • Risk Factors