Short telomeres lead to chromosomal instability and increased cancer risk and mortality

Telomeres are essential to preserve the integrity of the genome. Critically short telomeres lead to replicative cell senescence and chromosomal instability and may thereby increase cancer risk.

Leukocyte telomere length was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction in 787 participants free of cancer at baseline in 1995 from a prospective, population-based study in Italy. The follow-up period was 10 years.

Human chromosomes (grey) capped by telomeres (white). Image source: Wikipedia, public domain.

11.7% of participants developed cancer (incidence rate, 13.3 per 1000 person-years).

Short telomere length at baseline was associated with incident cancer independently of cancer risk factors (hazard ratio [HR] 1.60).

Compared with participants in the longest telomere length group, the HR for incident cancer was 2.15 in the middle length group and 3.11 in the shortest length group. Furthermore, short telomere length was associated with cancer mortality and individual cancer subtypes with a high fatality rate.

There is an inverse relationship between telomere length and both cancer incidence and mortality.


Telomere Length and Risk of Incident Cancer and Cancer Mortality. Peter Willeit, MD; Johann Willeit, MD; Agnes Mayr, MD; Siegfried Weger, MD; Friedrich Oberhollenzer, MD; Anita Brandst├Ątter, PhD; Florian Kronenberg, MD; Stefan Kiechl, MD. JAMA. 2010;304(1):69-75.
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