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What is 'accelerated aging' and might it lead to higher cancer rates in younger adults

Colon Cancer Screening
Posted at 4:55 PM, Apr 08, 2024

(WXYZ) — In today’s Health Alert, a new study tied “accelerated aging” to cancer in younger adults.

This might be the answer as to why cancers are rising in our younger generations. First of all, what is “accelerated aging” and how did researchers determine this?

Accelerated aging occurs when your biological age—which is the wear and tear on your body—is greater than your actual age. For instance, a 45-year-old who experiences high levels of stress and spends many hours sitting at work while leading a sedentary lifestyle could have a biological age much higher than their chronological age.

So, how did the researchers link accelerated aging with cancer? First, they analyzed blood data from nearly 149,000 people aged 37 to 54 who are participating in a large study in the United Kingdom called Biobank. They used nine blood-based biomarkers linked to aging, including the number of white blood cells, the size of red blood cells, and liver protein albumin, to calculate a person’s biological age. Those numbers were entered into a computer algorithm called PhenoAge, which then determined the person’s biological age. And what the researchers found was that people born in or after 1965 were 17% more likely to show accelerated aging when compared to older adults born between 1950 and 1954.

The researchers examined cancer registries, specifically looking for any participants who received a cancer diagnosis before turning 55. Their findings revealed that younger adults identified as biologically aging faster had a higher risk of early-onset cancers.

When compared to individuals with the lowest amount of biological aging, those who scored higher had a:

  • 42% more risk for early-onset lung cancer
  • 22% more risk for early-onset gastrointestinal cancer and a
  • 36% more risk for early-onset uterine cancer

Furthermore, researchers noted that accelerated aging among older adults was linked to a 16% increased risk of late-onset GI cancer and a 23% increased risk of late-onset uterine cancer.
While it's generally understood that the risk of cancer increases with age, recent decades have seen a troubling trend. And that’s the rise in cancer diagnoses among younger individuals, with no clear explanation. Now, that’s not to say that these findings are considered scientifically proven. The study had limitations, and more research is needed. But, it’s possible down the road that assessing biological age could potentially help find younger adults who have a higher risk of certain cancers.

In the meantime, everyone can benefit from living a healthy lifestyle, which includes focusing on nutrition, regular exercise, stress management, and getting adequate sleep.