Is Your Body Older Than Your Chronological Age? Cancer May Be In Your Future

Grim news.

If your biological age (the age your health suggests your body is) is older than your actual age, you could be at high risk of cancer.  The bigger the difference between the two, the greater your risk.

A person’s epigenetic age is calculated based on a DNA blood test that looks for methylation markers that could be modified by a person’s environment, including environmental chemicals, obesity, exercise and diet. This test is not commercially available but is currently being studied by academic researchers, including a team at Northwestern.

In DNA methylation, a cluster of molecules attaches to a gene and makes the gene more or less receptive to biochemical signals from the body. The gene itself -- your DNA code -- does not change.

“This could become a new early warning sign of cancer,” says senior author Dr. Lifang Hou, who led the study, at “The discrepancy between the two ages appears to be a promising tool that could be used to develop an early detection blood test for cancer.”

Hou is chief of cancer epidemiology and prevention in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and co-leader of the cancer prevention program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

“People who are healthy have a very small difference between their epigenetic/biological age and chronological age,” Hou says. “People who develop cancer have a large difference and people who die from cancer have a difference even larger than that. Our evidence showed a clear trend.”

For each one-year increase in the discrepancy between chronological and epigenetic ages, there was a 6 percent increased risk of getting cancer within three years and a 17 percent increased risk of cancer death within five years. Those who will develop cancer have an epigenetic age about six months older than their chronological age; those who will die of cancer are about 2.2 years older, the study found.

“Our results suggest future researchers should focus on the epigenetic-chronological age discrepancy for its potential to show a big picture snapshot of human health and disease at a molecular level,” says first author Yinan Zheng, a predoctoral fellow at Feinberg.

 How do you figure out your biological age?  There are lots of tests circulating on the Internet that purport to help you find out, but my guess is you should talk to your doctor first.  


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