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Background: Autism is associated with high rates of genomic aberrations, including chromosomal rearrangements and de novo copy-number variations. These observations are reminiscent of cancer, a disease where genomic rearrangements also play a role. We undertook a correlative epidemiological study to explore the possibility that shared risk factors might exist for autism and specific types of cancer.

Methodology/Principal Findings: To determine if significant correlations exist between the prevalence of autism and the incidence of cancer, we obtained and analyzed state-wide data reported by age and gender throughout the United States. Autism data were obtained from the U.S. Department of Education via the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (2000–2007, reported annually by age group) and cancer incidence data were obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (1999–2005). IDEA data were further subdivided depending on the method used to diagnose autism (DSM IV or the Code of Federal Regulations, using strict or expanded criteria). Spearman rank correlations were calculated for all possible pairwise combinations of annual autism rates and the incidence of specific cancers. Following this, Bonferroni’s correction was applied to significance values. Two independent methods for determining an overall combined p-value based on dependent correlations were obtained for each set of calculations. High correlations were found between autism rates and the incidence of in situ breast cancer (p#10210, modified inverse chi square, n = 16) using data from states that adhere strictly to the Code of Federal Regulations for diagnosing autism. By contrast, few significant correlations were observed between autism prevalence and the incidence of 23 other female and 22 male cancers.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that there may be an association between autism and specific forms of cancer.


This article originally appeared in PLoS ONE, available at DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009372

© 2010 Kao et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



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