Towards a Clearer Causal Question Underlying the Association between Cancer and Dementia

L. Paloma Rojas-Saunero*, Kimberly D. Van Der Willik, Sanne B. Schagen, M. Arfan Ikram, Sonja A. Swanson

*Corresponding author for this work

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Several observational studies have described an inverse association between cancer diagnosis and subsequent dementia risk. Multiple biologic mechanisms and potential biases have been proposed in attempts to explain this association. One proposed explanation is the opposite expression of Pin1 in cancer and dementia, and we use this explanation and potential drug target to illustrate the required assumptions and potential sources of bias for inferring an effect of Pin1 on dementia risk from analyses measuring cancer diagnosis as a proxy for Pin1 expression. 


We used data from the Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort. We estimate the association between cancer diagnosis (as a proxy for Pin1) and subsequent dementia diagnosis using two different proxy methods and with confounding and censoring for death addressed with inverse probability weights. We estimate and compare the complements of a weighted Kaplan-Meier survival estimator at 20 years of follow-up. 


Out of 3634 participants, 899 (25%) were diagnosed with cancer, of whom 53 (6%) had dementia, and 567 (63%) died. Among those without cancer, 15% (411) were diagnosed with dementia, and 667 (24%) died over follow-up. Depending on the confounding and selection bias control, and the way in which cancer was used as a time-varying proxy exposure, the risk ratio for dementia diagnosis ranged from 0.71 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.49, 0.95) to 1.1 (95% CI = 0.79, 1.3). 


Being explicit about the underlying mechanism of interest is key to maximizing what we can learn from this cancer-dementia association given available or readily collected data, and to defining, detecting, and preventing potential biases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-288
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2024

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