Accelerated aging connected to cancer risk in younger adults, study finds

FILE-A doctor looks at an x-ray with an assistant inside a hospital. (Photo By JUDY GRIESEDIECK/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

New research reveals that accelerated aging may increase the risk of cancers in young adults. 

In the study, researchers suggest that increased biological age, indicative of accelerated aging, may contribute to the development of early-onset cancers, often defined as cancers diagnosed in adults younger than 55 years old, according to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

Compared to chronological age, which measures how long a person has been alive, biological age refers to the condition of a person’s body and physiological processes.

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"Multiple cancer types are becoming increasingly common among younger adults in the United States and globally," Ruiyi Tian, MPH, a graduate student in the lab of Yin Cao, ScD, MPH at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said in a statement on the AACR website. "Understanding the factors driving this increase will be key to improve the prevention or early detection of cancers in younger and future generations."

Details from the study were presented at the (AACR) Annual Meeting 2024.

Researchers evaluated data from 148,724 people in the U.K. Biobank database. The team measured each individual’s biological age using biomarkers, a broad subcategory of medical signs, found in blood: albumin, alkaline phosphatase, creatinine, C-reactive protein, glucose, mean corpuscular volume, red cell distribution width, white blood cell count, and lymphocyte proportion, the AARC noted. 

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People whose biological age was higher than their chronological age are defined in the report as having accelerated aging. 

The team assessed aging across birth groups and determined that people born in or after 1965 had a 17% higher chance of accelerated aging compared to individuals born between 1950 and 1954.

Researchers then examined the link between accelerated aging and the risk of early-onset cancers. They learned that each increase in accelerated aging was connected to a 42% higher risk of early-onset lung cancer, a 22% increased risk of early-onset gastrointestinal cancer, and a 36% higher risk of early-onset uterine cancer. 

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Citing researchers, the AARC noted that accelerated aging didn’t significantly affect the risk of late-onset lung cancer, but was linked with a nearly 23% higher risk of late-onset gastrointestinal and uterine cancers.

The team pointed out that the study had limitations because the participants were from the U.K., which could limit the findings to populations with different genetic backgrounds, lifestyles, and environmental factors.

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.