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Childhood cancer ‘can speed ageing by 25 years’, scientists discover

Having cancer as a child or young adult can accelerate the ageing process by around 25 years, a study has found.

Researchers looked at 60 cancer survivors who got the disease when they were young, at an average age of 21.

They compared the levels of a key ageing protein called p16INK4a in the cells of these patients with people of similar ages who had not had cancer. 

The US researchers found that the levels of ageing in the cells of cancer survivors were up to 35 years ahead of cancer-free patients. 

This puts them at risk of frailty or disability in later life.

On average, having cancer and gruelling treatment including chemotherapy was found to accelerate the ageing process by around 25 years. 

The research, led by the American Cancer Society, was published in the journal Cancer. 

Lead author Dr Andrew Smitherman, from the University of North Carolina, said the findings could be used to help identify cancer survivors at risk of developing frailty or disability in later life.

He said it ‘may prove useful as a measure to study treatments aimed at mitigating the early aging effects of cancer treatment’.

The study said that chemotherapy is likely to accelerate the ageing process by increasing production of p16INK4a, which slows cell division.

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