Why are young people getting cancer sooner?

Getting cancer younger? Study links faster aging to early cancers onset

By Web Desk
April 17, 2024
Fast aging linked to early cancer onset, says study. (Representational image of a young cancer patient. — Unsplash)

Cancer rates in young adults seem to be on the rise.

Have you ever wondered why cancer seems to be knocking on the door of younger generations earlier than before?


It turns out that fast aging might have a role to play in spurring the disease.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis’s medical school dropped a bombshell at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting earlier this month. Accelerated aging could be the culprit behind early-onset cancer.

“Accumulating evidence suggests that younger generations may be aging more swiftly than anticipated, likely due to earlier exposure to various risk factors and environmental insults. However, the impact of accelerated aging on early-onset cancer development remains unclear,” said Ruiyi Tian, one of the authors of the study.

Digging into data from over 150,000 individuals stored in the UK Biobank, experts noticed something alarming. Despite life expectancy climbing, the period of "healthspan" — when folks enjoy life without health issues — hasn't kept pace.

Here, we have a question: What is causing fast aging?

Experts are looking for the answer, connecting the dots. James Kirkland, an aging research professor at the Mayo Clinic, points fingers at factors like air travel, radiation exposure, and pesky PFAS chemicals.

It's not just about looking older. Inside our bodies, certain cells hit the brakes on dividing but refuse to kick the bucket. These rebellious cells, called senescent cells, churn out troublemaking molecules and multiply with age.

Studies show that these molecules are best buds for cancer. Introducing senescent cells into organisms kickstarts cancer growth, even in younger bodies.

But hold on, there is a mystery to solve. Despite fewer smokers and efforts to tackle obesity, aging processes are speeding up in youth. Is there a hidden environmental trigger at play? Kirkland and other researchers are working to explore the answer.

“Globally, it seems fundamental aging processes [are] appearing in younger and younger people despite decreases in smoking worldwide and despite taking into account things like obesity, which we know accelerate fundamental aging processes, so is there something in the environment that we don’t know yet that could be driving this?” Kirkland said.

The big question remains: What's aging our younger generations at warp speed, inviting cancer to the party sooner than ever?