Multicenter Study Reveals Breast Cancer Survivors Experience Accelerated Aging

womanIn a new multicenter study, MCW investigators joined leading cancer centers from across the nation to examine whether cancer and its treatments accelerate aging. Using novel epigenetic measures to assess biological aging, the research team found that older breast cancer survivors—particularly those exposed to chemotherapy—showed greater epigenetic aging than their same-aged peers without cancer that may relate to worse outcomes. These results were published in the Cancer journalin June.

“Our analysis shows the increase in biological aging that previous studies have observed immediately following active therapy may persist for up to 60 months and is greater than would be expected in the absence of cancer,” said Kelly Rentscher, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine and first author of the study.

Epigenetic aging provides a method for measuring the underlying aging process and may be a useful clinical tool for identifying cancer survivors who are at greater risk for poor outcomes and quality of life (QOL). Leveraging data from the Thinking and Living with Cancer (TLC) cohort, the research team assessed participants’ biological aging at two timepoints between 24 and 60 months after study enrollment. Participants were between 62 and 84 years old; most survivors had early-stage breast cancer and about one-third (32.6%) had received chemotherapy.

Results revealed that survivors were biologically older than controls at 24 months or more after enrollment and these differences persisted as long as 60 months. Additionally, survivors who received chemotherapy showed the largest differences, and among this group, women with an older epigenetic age reported worse cognitive function.

“These findings can help inform future research that examines whether biological aging markers may be useful clinical tools to identify cancer survivors at increased risk for worse outcomes and to intervene to prevent or slow functional declines and improve QOL following cancer treatment” said Dr. Rentscher.

The team is working to develop follow-up analyses that will include assessments of epigenetic aging at baseline (before systemic treatment for survivors) to examine changes in epigenetic aging from before and up to 60 months after treatment in a larger sample of older breast cancer survivors and matched controls without cancer.

Read the full study in Cancer.