Monday, 25 July 2016

Risk of cancer in mums of children with autism

I very carefully approach the findings reported by Jennifer Fairthorne and colleagues [1] today detailing "the occurrence of hospital admissions and treatment/services for cancer in mothers of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] with or without ID [intellectual disability] compared with other mothers." Appreciating that families touched by autism probably have enough on their plate without additional talk about the 'big C', I do however think that this kind of research is important if not only as part of the process of 'caring for the carers'.

Based on the analysis of various "Western Australian administrative health databases" (something gaining research ascendancy), researchers sought to estimate the odds, sorry hazard ratios, of hospitalisation and/or use of services in relation to cancer when it came to mums of children with autism (with and without learning disability) "compared with other mothers." They concluded that there may be something more to see when it comes to elevated use of cancer services among mothers of children with autism. Mothers of children with autism but not with accompanying learning disability in particular seemed to be a group in need of quite a bit more scientific investigation.

Minus any sweeping generalisations nor scaremongering, this is important work. I've kinda touched upon the idea that risk of cancer might be something to look at in first degree relatives of those with autism (see here) before. As per reports such as the one by Erin Ingudomnukul and colleagues [2] the risk is not wildly increased similar to the risk of cancer among people with autism themselves (see here), but certainly enough to start asking more research questions about possible mechanisms and the potential applicability of preferential screening services. Indeed, on the topic of possible mechanisms it might be useful to note the growing interest in the idea that autism genes are not necessarily just genes for autism (see here) and that just outside of structural genetics, there is another branch of science ripe for further dual inquiry [3]...


[1] Fairthorne JC. et al. Mothers of Children with Autism have Different Rates of Cancer According to the Presence of Intellectual Disability in Their Child. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2016. July 6.

[2] Ingudomnukul E. et al. Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions. Horm Behav. 2007 May;51(5):597-604.

[3] Latham KE. et al. The epigenetic lorax: gene-environment interactions in human health. Epigenomics. 2012 Aug;4(4):383-402.

---------- Fairthorne, J., de Klerk, N., Leonard, H., & Whitehouse, A. (2016). Mothers of Children with Autism have Different Rates of Cancer According to the Presence of Intellectual Disability in Their Child Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-016-2847-9