Aim of the project

Previous research suggests that people on the autistic spectrum and their relatives may be at higher risk for developing cancer. Currently, 43 genes have been identified as key markers for both cancer and autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and 77 other mutations are also common in both cancer and ASC.

The Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) provides access to anonymized medical records of patients across the U.K. Through this resource, researchers have access to primary care records including diagnoses, lab results, prescriptions, symptoms, and demographical information for more than 20 million individuals enrolled in the NHS. In addition, the CPRD offers a Mother-to-Baby link to connect maternal records to their children.

The research team will use the CPRD to conduct two parallel studies on individuals with ASC (particularly those over the age of 30) and mothers of children with ASC. The aim is to identify if either of these groups are at higher risk of developing any cancer throughout their lifetimes, as well as if they are at greater risk for developing specific, hormone-dependent cancers. 

Importance of research

Multiple studies suggest that autistic individuals may be at higher risk for particular hormone-dependent cancers (including breast, ovarian, uterine, and testicular cancers). Furthermore, studies on mothers of children with ASC have been more consistent and indicate higher risk for cancer overall and for hormone-dependent cancers.  Future research in this field considering older individuals with ASC and family members of individuals with ASC could be critical in establishing this association.

In addition to driving new lines of research into the cause of this association (and the causes of each of these conditions), this study could suggest new guidelines for treatment of cancer. In particular, those at greater risk for certain cancers could be offered preventative screenings earlier or more frequently than they normally would—hopefully improving both length and quality of life.

Though the CPRD has been used previously in both autism and cancer research, this will be the first study specifically investigating the association between ASC and cancer in a UK population.  

Researchers involved

  • Elizabeth Weir

Key findings

Initial outcomes are expected from January 2019