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A new study shows younger adults are at a higher risk of cancer than ever before. Researchers believe accelerated, or biological aging may be to blame. Results from the study were recently presented at the 2024 American Association of Cancer Researchers Annual Conference.

While our chronological age simply measures the amount of time someone has been alive, biological age is modifiable and refers to the condition of a person’s body and physiological processes. The study’s authors say that increased biological age, indicative of accelerated aging, may contribute to the development of early-onset cancers, or cancers diagnosed in people younger than 55.

Researchers looked at data of nearly 150,000 people in the U.K. Biobank database. They used nine biomarkers found in blood to calculate each participant’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.

People whose biological age was higher than their chronological age were considered to have accelerated aging, which refers to conditions or factors that cause the body to age at a faster rate than normal. This can include various genetic conditions, lifestyle factors like smoking or poor diet, exposure to certain environmental toxins or medical treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Researchers found accelerated aging was associated with higher risks of developing early-onset cancers including:

  • Lung cancer — 42% increase
  • Gastrointestinal cancer — 22% increase
  • Uterine cancer — 36% increase

Lary Robinson, MD

Lary Robinson, MD

“This is not negative evolution,” said Lary Robinson, MD, a surgeon in the Thoracic Oncology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center. “It is a progressively worsening lifestyle causing these changes in tumor incidence, as well as other disease such as Alzheimer’s. Ninety percent of cancers are from nurture, that is lifestyle, not nature. People need to realize they are killing themselves slowly with their adverse life choices.”

Can you slow down accelerated aging?

According to the American Cancer Society, almost half of all cancers are linked to lifestyle factors such as:

  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress-related factors

Taking steps to address the underlying causes of accelerated aging, such as adopting a healthy lifestyle, managing chronic conditions and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins may help reduce the risk of cancer. Additionally, regular cancer screenings and early detection can improve outcomes for individuals at higher risk.