Posted on Jul 14, 2015, 6 a.m.
Rapid telomere shortening, followed by stabilization 3-4 years before diagnosis, may be a telltale pattern for cancer.
Telomeres are the end caps of chromosomes, protecting the DNA complexes from deterioration during cell division. Telomere shortening is considered a marker of cellular aging, and prematurely shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and death. Lifang Hou, from Northwestern University (Illinois, USA), and colleagues took multiple measurements of telomeres over a 13-year period in 792 persons, 135 of whom were eventually diagnosed with different types of cancer, including prostate, skin, lung, leukemia and others. The team found that initially, telomeres aged much faster (indicated by a more rapid loss of length) in individuals who were developing but not yet diagnosed with cancer: telomeres in persons developing cancer looked as much as 15 years chronologically older than those of people who were not developing the disease. Then the researchers observed that the accelerated aging process stopped three to four years before the cancer diagnosis. The lead investigator comments that: “this pattern of telomere growth may mean it can be a predictive biomarker for cancer."
Jian Gu. “Leukocyte Telomere Length and Cancer Risk: A Dynamic Problem,” EBioMedicine, May 20, 2015.