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New research indicates that some cancer therapies can accelerate cell aging, where changes in patients’ DNA can contribute to more inflammation and fatigue. The results are published by Wiley early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Gene activity is often adjusted over the course of life by epigenetic changes or physical changes in DNA that do not involve altering the underlying DNA sequence. Some people may experience epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) which puts them at a higher risk for age-related diseases than other people of the same chronological age. Researchers recently looked at changes in EAA during and after cancer treatment, and looked for a potential link between these changes and fatigue in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC).
In the study of 133 patients with HNC, half of the patients experienced severe fatigue at some point. EAA was greatest immediately after radiotherapy, when the mean epigenetic age was accelerated by 4.9 years. Increased EAA was associated with high fatigue, and patients with severe fatigue had a 3.1 years higher EAA than those with low fatigue. In addition, patients with high levels of markers of inflammation had an EAA higher by approximately 5 years, and inflammation appeared to account for most of the effects of EAA on fatigue.
“Our results add to the body of evidence suggesting that long-term toxicity and possibly increased mortality from cancer treatments for patients with HNC may be related to an increase in EAA and its association with l ‘inflammation,’ said lead author Canhua Xiao, PhD, RN, FAAN, of Emory University School of Nursing, Atlanta.
Future studies could examine the vulnerabilities that could explain elevated EAA, fatigue, and inflammation in patients. “
Canhua Xiao, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior author, Emory University School of Nursing, Atlanta
The authors noted that interventions aimed at reducing inflammation, including before cancer treatment, could benefit patients by slowing the aging process and subsequently reducing age-related chronic health problems such as tiredness.
An accompanying editorial stresses that chronic fatigue in cancer patients is not just a symptom; it can also play an important role in influencing the health of patients.