Accelerated Aging Linked to Cancer in Young People

Increased biological age may contribute to rising cancer rates among younger adults, a study suggests.

A new study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2024 examined the link between biological age and cancer in people younger than 55.

Biological age refers to the condition of a person’s body and physiological processes and can be modified, in contrast to chronological age, which measures how long a person has been alive.

The researchers looked at the data of 148,724 individuals from the U.K. Biobank database.

Each participant’s biological age was calculated using nine biomarkers found in the blood: albumin, alkaline phosphatase, creatinine, C-reactive protein, glucose, mean corpuscular volume, red cell distribution width, white blood cell count, and lymphocyte proportion.

A person was considered as having accelerated aging if their biological age was higher than their chronological age.

Participants born in or after 1965 were 17% more likely to have accelerated aging than those born between 1950 and 1954.

An increase in accelerated aging was associated with a 42% higher risk of lung cancer, a 22% risk of gastrointestinal cancer, and a 36% risk of uterine cancer before the age of 55.

While accelerated aging did not significantly raise the risk of late-onset lung cancer (diagnosed after the age of 55), it was linked to a 16% and 23% higher risk of late-onset gastrointestinal and uterine cancers, respectively.

“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,” said Ruiyi Tian, MPH, a graduate student at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

If validated, the findings could be a new avenue for cancer prevention, the authors say. Screening efforts tailored to younger individuals with signs of accelerated aging could lead to early cancer diagnosis.

Tian says biological age may be influenced by factors such as diet, physical activity, mental health, and environmental stressors.

Accumulating evidence suggests that the younger generations may be aging more swiftly than anticipated, likely due to earlier exposure to various risk factors and environmental insults. However, the impact of accelerated aging on early-onset cancer development remains unclear.


Cancer patients are becoming younger

Colorectal cancer diagnoses nearly doubled from 1995 to 2019 in people under the age of 55 in the U.S. Europe has seen an increase in bowel cancer deaths, primarily attributed to being overweight, obesity, and related health conditions, including high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

Globally, early-onset cancer is estimated to increase by 31% in 2030, according to a study published in the BMJ Oncology. The main risk factors include a diet high in red meat and sodium and low in fruits and milk, as well as alcohol consumption and tobacco use.

While cancer is striking more and more young people, emerging evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of preventative measures. For instance, cases of cervical cancer decreased by 65% from 2012 to 2019 in women aged 20–24, the generation that was exposed to the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, nearly half (42%) of newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. are potentially avoidable, the American Cancer Society data shows.

Of those, 19% of cancers were caused by smoking, and at least 18% by a combination of excess body weight, alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity.

With cancer on the rise among young people, it is essential to adopt healthy habits that can also slow down the biological clock.

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