Blood Telomere Length Attrition and Cancer Development in the Normative Aging Study Cohort

Lifang Hou, Brian Thomas Joyce, Tao Gao, Lei Liu, Yinan Zheng, Frank J. Penedo, Siran Liu, Wei Zhang, Raymond Bergan, Qi Dai, Pantel Vokonas, Mirjam Hoxha, Joel Schwartz, Andrea Baccarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Background: Accelerated telomere shortening may cause cancer via chromosomal instability, making it a potentially useful biomarker. However, publications on blood telomere length (BTL) and cancer are inconsistent. We prospectively examined BTL measures over time and cancer incidence. Methods: We included 792 Normative Aging Study participants with 1-4 BTL measurements from 1999 to 2012. We used linear mixed-effects models to examine BTL attrition by cancer status (relative to increasing age and decreasing years pre-diagnosis), Cox models for time-dependent associations, and logistic regression for cancer incidence stratified by years between BTL measurement and diagnosis. Findings: Age-related BTL attrition was faster in cancer cases pre-diagnosis than in cancer-free participants (pdifference=0.017); all participants had similar age-adjusted BTL 8-14years pre-diagnosis, followed by decelerated attrition in cancer cases resulting in longer BTL three (p=0.003) and four (p=0.012) years pre-diagnosis. Longer time-dependent BTL was associated with prostate cancer (HR=1.79, p=0.03), and longer BTL measured ≤4years pre-diagnosis with any (OR=3.27, p<0.001) and prostate cancers (OR=6.87, p<0.001). Interpretation: Age-related BTL attrition was faster in cancer cases but their age-adjusted BTL attrition began decelerating as diagnosis approached. This may explain prior inconsistencies and help develop BTL as a cancer detection biomarker.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)591-596
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer incidence
  • Longitudinal study
  • Telomere

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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