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Accelerated Aging Linked to Increased Cancer Risk in Young Adults

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Accelerated biological aging may be behind why some types of cancer are on the rise in young adults, researchers find.

Research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2024 found that accelerated aging was more common among recent birth cohorts and may be associated with increased incidence of early-onset solid tumors.1

cancer cells | Sodapeaw - stock.adobe.com

cancer cells | Sodapeaw - stock.adobe.com

“We all know cancer is an aging disease. However, it is really coming to a younger population. So, whether we can use the well-developed concept of biological aging to apply that to the younger generation is a really untouched area,” said Yin Cao, MPH, an associate professor of surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and senior author of the study, according to a statement published in CNN.2

In the study, the researchers hypothesized that increased biological age, which may be influenced by factors such as diet, physical activity, mental health, and environmental stressors, may contribute to the development of early-onset cancers.

The researchers examined data of 148,724 individuals aged 37 to 54 years, from the UK Biobank databases. The researchers calculated an individual’s biological age according to 9 biomarkers found in blood: albumin, alkaline phosphatase, creatine, C-reactive protein, glucose, mean corpuscular volume, red cell distribution width, white blood cell count, and lymphocyte proportion.

These 9 biomarkers were then inputted into an algorithm called PhenoAge, used to calculate each person’s biological age. Participants whose biological age was higher than their chronological age were defined as having accelerated aging.

Additionally, the researchers checked the cancer registries to see how many individuals in the group had been diagnosed with early cancers before age 55 years, finding nearly 3200 cancers had been diagnosed.

Furthermore, the researchers found that individuals born in or after 1965 had a 17% higher likelihood of accelerated aging than individuals born between 1950 and 1954.

The researchers also found that each 1-SD increase in accelerated aging was associated with a 42% increased risk of early-onset lung cancer, a 22% increased risk of early-onset gastrointestinal cancer, and a 36% increased risk of early-onset uterine cancer.

While accelerated aging did not significantly impact the risk of late-onset lung cancer, it was associated with a 16% increased risk of late-onset gastrointestinal cancer and a 23% increased risk of late-onset uterine cancer.

The researchers also found that individuals who had the highest amount of faster aging had twice the risk of early-onset lung cancer, more than 60% higher risk of gastrointestinal tumor, and more than 80% higher risk of uterine cancer, compared with people who had the smallest amount of faster aging.

However, the researchers acknowledged some limitations to the study. Because all participants were from the United Kingdom, the findings of this study may not be generalizable to individuals of different genetic backgrounds, lifestyles, and environmental factors. Additionally, the researchers believe that future research among diverse populations is needed to validate these findings.

Despite these limitations, the study suggests that accelerated aging may be associated with increased risk of cancer among younger generations. The implications of these findings may lead to a better way to identify individuals who are at a higher risk of cancer while they are young.

“By examining the relationship between accelerating aging and the risk of early-onset cancers, we provide a fresh perspective on the shared etiology of early-onset cancers,” Ruiyi Tian, MPH, graduate student at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis and coauthor on the study, said in the AACR news release.1 “If validated, our findings suggest that interventions to slow biological aging could be a new avenue for cancer prevention, and screening efforts tailored to younger individuals with signs of accelerated aging could help detect cancers early.”

Reference

1. Accelerated aging may increase the risk of early-onset cancers in younger generations. American Association for Cancer Research. News release. April 7, 2024. Accessed April 8, 2024. https://www.aacr.org/about-the-aacr/newsroom/news-releases/accelerated-aging-may-increase-the-risk-of-early-onset-cancers-in-younger-generations/

2. Goodman B. Study links accelerated aging to cancer risk in younger adults. CNN. April 7, 2024. Accessed April 8, 2024. https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/07/health/accelerated-aging-cancer-risk/index.html

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