Study points to potential factor in rising cancer rates in younger adults

Accelerated biological aging may be a factor in rising cancer rates among younger adults, new findings from researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggest. 

National data shows cancer diagnosis rates in people younger than 50 are rising. From 2000 to 2019, the rate among this group jumped nearly 13% to 107.8 per 100,000 population, and scientists have been racing to determine what's behind the increases. 

To conduct the study, researchers used a U.K. Biobank database that houses information on nearly 149,000 individuals. They used nine blood biomarkers to calculate a person's biological age: albumin, alkaline, phosphatase, creatinine, C-reactive protein, glucose, mean corpuscular volume, red cell distribution width, white blood cell count and lymphocyte proportion. Those whose biological age was higher than their actual age were considered to have accelerated aging.

Researchers found that people born in or after 1965 were 17% more likely to demonstrate accelerated aging than those born between 1950-54. After adjusting for risk factors, they found accelerated aging was tied to an increased risk for cancer. Each standard deviation increase in faster aging was linked to a 42% increased risk for early-onset lung cancer, a 22% increased risk of early-onset gastrointestinal cancer and a 36% increased risk of early-onset uterine cancer. 

"Unlike chronological age, biological age may be influenced by factors such as diet, physical activity, mental health, and environmental stressors," Ruiyi Tian, a graduate student who led the research, said in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research. The research was presented at the AACR's annual meeting. "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." 

The findings, if validated through further research, could lead to more tailored prevention and screening efforts for younger people with signs of accelerated aging, researchers said. The team also plans to conduct additional studies focused on the underlying mechanisms driving accelerated aging. 

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