Breast cancer treatment increased biological aging

Contemporary OB/GYN JournalVol 68 No 09
Volume 68
Issue 09

In a recent study, women with breast cancer experienced increased biological aging when treated with radiation therapy.

Breast cancer treatment increased biological aging | Image Credit: © saltdium - © saltdium -

Breast cancer treatment increased biological aging | Image Credit: © saltdium - © saltdium -

According to a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health, women diagnosed and treated for breast cancer may experience increased biological aging.

Cell and tissue health are impacted by biological aging, which is separate from chronological aging. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) conducted the Sister Study to determine environmental risk factors associated with breast cancer and other biological conditions.

Participants were selected to have blood samples collected for measuring biological age. Investigators collected blood samples from 417 women at 2 times points separated by approximately 8 years. Of participants, about half were recruited because of experiencing breast cancer development during the 8-year period.

Three “methylation clocks” were used to measure changes in biological age, by evaluating natural chemical modifications to an individual’s DNA. These were referred to as methylation changes. All 3 clocks indicated increased aging rates in women with a breast cancer diagnosis. No differences by race were reported.

Variations in aging rates were seen based on treatment type, indicating breast cancer development is not responsible for faster aging. Methods of breast cancer treatment include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, and surgery. 

Radiation was the treatment method with the strongest associations to increased aging. According to Jack Taylor, PhD, emeritus scientist at NIEHS and senior author of the paper,increases may be identified years following treatment.

As radiation is a current effective method of breast cancer treatment, investigators urged women not to discard this option. Katie O’Brien, PhD, scientist in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and a co-author on the paper, recommended women discuss all potential treatment methods with their doctors to determine which is best for them.

“Radiation is a valuable treatment option for breast cancer, and we don’t yet know why it was most strongly associated with biological age,” said Dale Sandler, PhD, chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and co-author on the paper. “This finding supports efforts to minimize radiation exposures when possible and to find ways to mitigate adverse health effects.”


Women treated for breast cancer may age faster than cancer-free women. National Institutes of Health. July 19, 2023. Accessed July 19, 2023.

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