On Sunday, The New York Times published a science story with the frightening headline “Autism’s Unexpected Link to Cancer.” What the article does not make clear is the fact that individuals with autism do not – repeat, do NOT – have an increased risk of cancer.
This is made clear in a thoughtful piece by Forbes science columnist Emily Willingham. It’s titled “Dear New York Times: Cancer and Autism Are Not Parallels.”
So if The New York Times piece gave you a start, here’s the crux of Ms. Willingham’s clarification:
“For parents and autistic people who might have read the headline and the article and added 'cancer' to their list of worries, here’s another bit of information the article omitted: The mutations in the PTEN gene that are linked to autism tend to be different from those for PTEN-associated cancer. Indeed, they affect the resulting protein in different, less extreme ways, and research indicates no correlation between PTEN-associated cancers and PTEN-associated ASDs.”
“It's worth noting that we’re not seeing any increase of cancer in individuals with autism,” comments Autism Speaks Senior Vice President for Scientific Affairs Andy Shih. “The importance of the research being referenced has to do with the identification of a common genetic pathway as a possible target for medical treatment. That’s the real story here, not cancer.”