Telomere Length as a biomarker related to cancer risk

Telomere Length as a biomarker related to cancer risk

June 7, 2017 Cancer and telomeres

The American Association of Cancer Research had its annual meeting  early last month. There were several, very interesting abstract presented at the conference on telomere studies.

One of them is an extensive, both in the number of samples – over 28,000 people were included in the study, and in the chronological length of the data examined as the work spanned two decades of longitudinal follow up of the participants.

The conclusions of the study reinforce the immense potential as a predictive marker that telomere length could have.

Up until now the only single study of similar characteristic was done in the US and was associated with the National Aging Cohort which -despite the retrospective nature of the analysis and the somehow smaller power of the sample, also pointed to the prognosis value of telomere attrition.

In the abstract presented by scientists from Pittsburgh and Singapore lead by Jian-Min Yuan, MD both extreme short and long telomeres have been associated to increased cancer risk. Blood samples and health data from more than 28,000 people were obtained, was monitored for approximately 20 years. Based on leukocyte telomere length (LTL), the subjects participating in the study were divided into five groups.

 At the end of 2015, more than 4,000 participants had developed cancer. Dataanalysis shows the following results:

The group with the longest LTL presents

  • 33% higher odds for developing any cancer than the group with shortest LTL
  • Higher odds of developing lung cancer (66%), prostate cancer (55%), breast cancer (39%), or colorectal cancer (37%); and 2.6 times the probability of developing pancreatic cancer


Both groups with extreme short and extreme long telomeres (“U-Shaped risk curve”) present

  •       Higher odds (more than 55% for all the cases) for developing leukemia, bladder cancer and stomach cancer compared to the group in the middle of the curve.

The processing of the samples was clearly a challenge for the team and the methodology used was qPCR.

We are excited about this work and agree with Jian-Min Yuan in that "Telomeres and cancer clearly have a complex relationship”. Studies like this reinforce the rational of our ONCOCHECK project as we believe that by understanding these relationships and integrating telomere length determination in medical care using new telomere analysis technologies will help predict and manage oncology patients.

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