Has cancer treatment accelerated the aging process for you? Talk about a loaded question, right? I don’t know about you, but I can say, without a doubt, cancer treatment accelerated the aging process for me. Still, there is debate about this, too. Exactly how much can be attributed to cancer treatment fallout and how much can be attributed to natural aging?
So why am I bringing this topic up now?
Because February is my birthday month. And no, I’m not going to share my age because I don’t generally do that. Of course, some of you know how old I am (pretty old) and if you’ve read my memoir, you’ve done the math. But still, I like to keep some things a mystery.
But let me just say, I am thrilled to still be here and able to celebrate yet another birthday.
This year’s birthday also meant it was time to renew my driver’s licence. When my new license arrived in the mail recently, I took one look at my new photo and thought, oh yeah, you’ve aged, Nancy. And btw, that number you plug in for your weight on your licence, do you declare your real weight? Just wondering…
Recently, I read a study shared by @BCSMchat co-moderator, Dr. Attai, that specifically addressed this topic of aging acceleration being a direct result of cancer treatment. You can read Dr. Attai’s blog post about it here. You can read study details recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
As far as I’m concerned, researchers could just ask almost any cancer patient, but yes, we need studies about this stuff, too. Validation matters.
This particular study measured and compared inflammatory cytokines (proteins important in cellular signaling regarding inflammation and pain) and comorbidity developments (other medical problems) among breast cancer survivors and a non-cancer control group. Inflammation is associated with aging-related physical decrements and increased disability, hence this study. In short, inflammation is a big deal.
At the beginning of the study, both groups had similar baselines of the above mentioned inflammatory markers, but at the end of the 18-month study, the breast cancer survivor group had higher levels of inflammatory cytokines than the control group, along with correlating higher levels of comorbidity.
Basically, this suggests that higher levels of inflammation likely result from cancer treatment and higher levels of inflammation result in increased comorbidities. One can conclude that the aging process is indeed accelerated by cancer treatment. In addition and unfortunately, this “pile on” of medical issues might also indicate premature mortality for some cancer survivors.
So again, it’s a big deal.
The study went on to say these things keep compounding over time and more followup is needed to further study them, as well as the biology specific to these effects. In other words, the worst might be yet to come for an individual patient since the issues can keep building up over time, sort of a snowball effect.
I don’t need convincing that cancer accelerates the aging process. Experts don’t all agree on this cause and effect idea, but it seems a correlation is indeed supported by this study.
It’s important to note, this particular study focused on inflammation driven issues, but there are other conditions that might arise down the road following cancer treatment as well, such as: cardiac or other organ toxicity, depression, neuropathy and decreased cognitive and physical functioning, to name a few.
This study makes it clearer (again) why oncologists (and others) these days are stressing more than ever the importance of exercise during cancer treatment and beyond. Exercise helps with a lot of things, including reducing inflammation.
Most of us fully realize the need for and benefit of exercise. I try to fit in some exercise most days. I also understand how hard it is for some and why condescending “blame the patient” articles and advisement are not helpful.
The difficulty sometimes is in the implementation.
Most survivors want to, try to and do some sort of exercise, but at the same time, many are plagued with considerable pain, fatigue and countless other issues that make exercise hard to do or to continue doing. And of course, there’s the normal life stuff to do; work, raising a family, household chores – just tending to all that stuff that needs doing in all our lives. These things get in the way for everyone, but for some cancer patients it can seem like too much to tackle because it is.
This is why it’s not always so easy to just do it.
Besides weight gain, I now have thin hair (which I hate – hair rant coming soon), neuropathy, joint pain, bone loss, sleep issues, hot flashes, lowered libido, fatigue, and a few other issues that shall remain unmentioned here.
And yes, I realize some of these can be and often are attributed to normal aging, but I know my body. I know exactly when these issues emerged or drastically worsened.
Bingo – right after cancer and cancer treatment rudely intruded into my life.
And one more thing, me “complaining” about these issues does not mean I am not grateful to be alive. My treatment saved me. I am still NED. I am grateful, but this other stuff matters, too. And yes, sometimes it pisses me off.
So does cancer treatment accelerate the aging process?
As far as I’m concerned, no study needed.
Without a doubt, it did for me.
What about for you?
If applicable, do you feel cancer accelerated the aging process for you?
If so, in what ways specifically?
If you’re a patient or a health care professional and you agree cancer treatment accelerates aging, what if anything, can we do about it? Ideas welcome.