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Shorter Telomeres Linked to Higher Cancer Incidence

Cancer-related mortality also appears to be higher in people with short telomeres

TUESDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) -- There appears to be a statistically significant inverse relationship between telomere length and the incidence of cancer as well as cancer mortality, according to research published in the July 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Peter Willeit, M.D., of Innsbruck Medical University in Austria, and colleagues measured leukocyte telomeres in 787 cancer-free participants and followed them for 10 years, looking for cancer incidence and mortality.

In the decade-long study, the researchers found that 92 subjects (11.7 percent) developed cancer. Independent of other cancer risk factors, short telomere length at baseline was associated with risk of cancer development in both men and women. The incident rate of cancer in people with the shortest telomeres was 22.5 per 1000 person-years, compared with 14.2 per 1000 person-years in the middle-length group and 5.1 per 1000 person-years in the longest telomere group. Short telomere length was also associated with cancer mortality and the development of cancers with high fatality rates.

"To our knowledge, this is the first prospective, population-based study to estimate the impact of telomere length on overall cancer manifestation and mortality. We demonstrated significant inverse correlations between baseline leukocyte telomere length and both cancer incidence and mortality, which emerged as independent of standard cancer risk factors," the authors write.

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