New Research Shows Accelerated Aging Linked to Increased Cancer Risk in Younger Adults


Cancer rates among young people have increased in recent years, leaving researchers scrambling to understand why. A new study suggests a potential reason: faster biological aging than older generations.

Biological age refers to the state of someone’s body rather than how long they’ve been alive. The new research found that people born in or after 1965 had a higher rate of biological aging than those born before that year. Researchers also discovered a link between accelerated aging and the development of some early-onset cancers, often defined as cancers diagnosed in people younger than 55.

Scientists presented the findings, which they haven’t published in a peer-reviewed journal, at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in early April.

“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 a news release. “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.”

How Researchers Measured Biological Age

Tian noted in the release that “accumulating evidence” had suggested that younger generations may be aging at an accelerated rate, but researchers were unclear on how this might affect early-onset cancer development.

To examine the association between the two, Tian’s team used data from nearly 150,000 people enrolled in the U.K. Biobank, a large biomedical database containing information on half a million residents in the United Kingdom.

The researchers calculated participants’ biological ages by analyzing 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.

They found that people born in 1965 or after were 17% more likely to have a higher biological age than their chronological age compared to people born between 1950 and 1954.

Finding a Link Between Accelerated Biological Aging and Cancer Risk

The team then examined the association between accelerated aging and the chances of developing cancer. They concluded that faster body aging led to higher odds of an early-onset diagnosis of lung, gastrointestinal, and uterine cancers. It also raised the risk of late-onset gastrointestinal and uterine cancers.

This research is important “ because we see cancers earlier all the time now, and nobody knows why,” Emanuela Taioli, MD, PhD, director of Population Science and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Mount Sinai, told Health. “The subset in the population that [has] accelerated aging may need screening more often or earlier.”

Mina Sedrak, MD, a breast medical oncologist and director of the Cancer and Aging Program at the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, told Health that the findings make sense given that aging is among the highest risk factors for cancer. “There’s other work that’s been done that corroborates some of this,” he added.

However, he pointed out that it’s unclear if the researchers’ method for measuring biological aging is accurate. “I think the one limitation is [that] …the marker that they used…it’s not clear how good of a biomarker of aging, by themselves, they are,” he explained. “They are one marker of many processes.”

The researchers also noted that all study participants were from the U.K., which could limit the generalizability of the results.

Can You Slow Down Biological Aging?

Sedrak said factors that influence biological age include diet, activity levels, and smoking habits. Fortunately, healthy choices regarding these factors can likely slow the aging clock.

However, another factor that affects biological age can’t be modified: genetics.

Taioli said scientists are still learning more about what makes a person genetically predisposed to accelerated aging. But genetic factors could help explain why some people are diagnosed with early-onset cancers despite leading healthy lifestyles, Sedrak said.

“These are things that are happening at the cellular, molecular level, but they might be very important [in explaining] why even the healthy behaviors are not enough to reduce the emergence of age-related diseases in young adults, like cancer,” he said.

If you’re curious about your biological age, some companies offer tests you can buy. However, experts question their reliability and whether they can provide useful insights into your health.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *