Huntington’s Disease May Lower Risk Of Cancer
April 14, 2012

Huntington’s Disease May Lower Risk Of Cancer

A Swedish study has shown that people with Huntington´s disease may have protection from cancer. The study also suggests there may be a genetic mechanism in diseases such as Huntington´s capable of fighting off cancer cells.

Huntington´s is a debilitating brain condition and belongs to a group of illnesses known as polyglutamine (polyQ) diseases. These diseases are rare and all share a common genetic trait, which causes the repetition of certain genetic elements.

This repetition produces faulty proteins which then build up inside the cells, thus causing damage.

The new study was led by Dr. Jianguang Ji from Lund University and Skane University Hospital.

Dr. Ji is suggesting more research be done into the specific mechanism that lowers the risk of cancer. Once this research is complete and the specific mechanism of polyQ diseases singled out, doctors and scientists may be able to use it to fight off cancer in other patients.

In addition to Huntington´s, the polyQ diseases are spinobulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA), dentatorubral and pallidoluysian atrophy, and six types of spinocerebellar ataxia.

To conduct the study, Dr. Ji´s team studied 1,510 patients with Huntington´s disease, 471 with SBMA, and 3,435 with dentatorubral and pallidoluysian atrophy, all over a 50-year span.

The scientists found Huntington´s disease patients were 53% less likely to contract a form of cancer than a patient without the polyQ disease, and those with SBMA were 35% less likely to contract cancer.

During the course of their study, 91 patients with Huntington´s disease (or 6%) were diagnosed with cancer, while 34 SBMA patients (7%) and 421 hereditary ataxia patients (12%) were diagnosed with cancer.

According to, the authors of the study summed up their conclusion this way: “Our findings suggest a common mechanism in patients with polyQ diseases that protects against the development of cancer, and expansion of the polyglutamine tracts seems likely. Future studies should investigate the specific biological mechanisms underlying the reduced cancer risk in patients with polyQ diseases.”

Senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK Eleanor Barrie thought the study to be interesting, saying, “It´s not clear how the genetic changes that cause Huntington´s and other similar diseases could protect against cancer, and research in the lab will help to find out more.”

Huntington´s disease, or HD, is listed as a neurodegenerative genetic disorder, affecting muscle coordination. The most common symptom of HD is involuntary muscle movements, such as writhing or jerking. These movements are known as chorea. The physical symptoms of HD can occur at any time in the patient´s life, though they usually begin between the ages of 33 and 45.

In its early stages, HD can cause those with the disease to experience subtle changes in their coordination, irritable moods, and difficulty thinking through problems and processes.

In the middle stages of HD, chorea becomes more pronounced and may become an issue for these patients. During this stage, occupational and physical therapists may be needed to help a patient through their day.

In the late stages, HD patients rely completely on others for their care, as they can no longer walk or speak. Those with HD typically pass from complications from their symptoms rather than the disease itself.