Telomere shortening and cancer relationship elucidated

Ed Park, MD News Leave a Comment

Previous studies have linked telomere shortening to cancer formation but a new study by Hou et al. conducted by the Northwestern and Harvard Schools of Public Health in 792 Veterans tracked telomere lengths over 13 years. 213 cancer cases were found and they concluded that telomere shortening was rapid in the blood cells leading up until a few years before cancer diagnosis.  In those years before diagnosis, the telomere lengths appeared to stabilize.

The abridged summary can be read here:

However I disagree with this overreaching title for the summary of the article:

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The erosion of telomeres is not necessarily a given any more than it is a given that a person walking up against a down-going escalator will reach the bottom. If the telomerase in stem cells is active and the cells that acquire damage are self-destructing, then the crisis stage when telomere lengths are stable because the stem cells are in a crisis stage will be prevented.

This “new” paradigm for cancer formation over time is in keeping with my stem cell theory of aging and disease, which suggests that all diseases are traceable to the initial insults caused by telomere shortening.

After these firecrackers on the ends of your chromosomes ‘go off’, mutation occurs, leading to a crisis period where cells are “trying” to die or in some dysfunctional or senescent phenotype. That is what Hou et al. study showed if you would like to read the entire paper.


Because the Cawthon method that they used only measures telomere lengths crudely and not in terms of individual chromosomal ends, like a FISH (fluorescent in situ hybridization), we lose the interesting details of how the apparently stable lengths are really undergoing multiple mutations by the existence of division after end-to-end fusion repair.

The Life Length test that we can order for you actually measures all the ends and can identify the critically-shortened ones, which as I blog about in here, are what we are concerned about.

Evidence from Maria Blasco’s lab in Spain that helped develop the Life Length Test showed that TA-65 works on those telomeres and I believe that is why my patients do so well on it.

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