Cancer and Chemotherapy Treatment May Advance Aging Process in Young Patients

Researchers have found that gene expression associated with aging was higher in young cancer survivors who are frail and in young patients with cancer following their treatment with chemotherapy.

Researchers have found that gene expression associated with aging was higher in young cancer survivors who are frail and in young patients with cancer following their treatment with chemotherapy, according to a study published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

In prior research, a protein called p16INK4a, which is known to slow cell division, was found to be generated at higher levels by cells as people age. With this in mind, the study authors used the expression of the gene that codes for p16INK4a as an age marker in order to analyze the immune cells of young adult survivors of pediatric cancers and of children and adolescents newly diagnosed with cancer.

After examining the immune cells in the blood of 60 cancer survivors, the researchers compared them with cells from 29 individuals of the same age who have not had cancer.

The results demonstrated a 25-year age acceleration in the expression of the gene that codes for p16INK4a in cancer survivors. Of the cancer survivors assessed, 9 were frail and had a higher expression level compared with survivors who were not frail, resulting in a 35-year age acceleration for cancer survivors who are frail.

Additionally, the researchers observed 9 pediatric patients in the study who had a new diagnosis of cancer. Following treatment, gene expression with chemotherapy was found to be higher than before treatment.

"Higher expression of p16INK4a in peripheral blood lymphocytes has been described in older adults following chemotherapy, but prior to this study, not in young adult survivors," said study author Andrew Smitherman, MD, MSc, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a press release. "This study is important as we try to understand the biological mechanisms underlying the manifestations of early aging in this population."

Smitherman noted that the ability to identify p16INK4a expression as a sign of aging could help cancer survivors who are at risk of becoming frail or developing functional disability.

"Additionally, expression of p16INK4a may prove useful as a measure to study treatments aimed at mitigating the early aging effects of cancer treatment," Smitherman said in the press release.

REFERENCE

Cancer and its treatment may accelerate the aging process in young patients. Wiley; August 24, 2020. eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-08/w-cai081920.php. Accessed August 25, 2020.