Biologic Age Associated With Breast Cancer Risk

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have recently found that biologic age, or a DNA-based estimate of a person’s age, is associated with future development of breast cancer.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have recently found that biologic age, or a DNA-based estimate of a person’s age, is associated with future development of breast cancer.

A person’s age is one of the “strongest predictions of cancer, chronic disease, and mortality, but biologic responses to aging differ among people,” wrote the study authors. Investigators measured baseline blood DNA methylation of 2764 women enrolled in the study who were cancer free at the time of blood collection and found that 1566 subsequently developed breast cancer after an average time frame of 6 years.

Biological age acceleration was defined for each woman by comparing her estimated biological age with her chronological age. The authors utilized 3 methylation-based “clocks” previously developed by other researchers to determine the biological age acceleration for each participant. The clocks work by measuring methylation found at specific locations within DNA. The study demonstrated that for every 5 years that a woman’s biologic age was older than her chronologic age, she had a 15% increase in her chance of developing breast cancer.

“We found that if your biologic age is older than your chronologic age, your breast cancer risk is increased. The converse was also true. If your biologic age is younger than your chronologic age, you may have decreased risk of developing breast cancer,” said Jack Taylor, MD, PhD, head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group and corresponding author of the study, in a press release.

The study was able to conclude that using DNA methylation to measure biologic age may help future researchers better understand and identify specific patients at risk of developing cancer and other age-related diseases. The research team plans to continue using epigenetic data, as well as information on genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors, to better understand how they contribute to disease risks.

Reference

Kresovich J, Xu Z, O’Brien K, Weinberg C, Sandler D, Taylor J. Methylation-based biological age and breast cancer risk [published online February 22, 2019]. J Nat Cancer Inst. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djz020.