The potential utility of telomere-related markers for cancer diagnosis

Christopher M. Heaphy, Alan K. Meeker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


• Introduction • Methods for telomere length and telomerase detection • Telomere length as a potential diagnostic marker in cancer - Breast cancer - Prostate cancer - Other cancer types • Telomerase activity as a potential diagnostic marker in cancer - Breast cancer - Prostate cancer - Other cancer types • Future directions • Conclusions The role telomeres and telomerase play in the initiation and progression of human cancers has been extensively evaluated. Telomeres are nucleoprotein complexes comprising the hexanucleotide DNA repeat sequence, TTAGGG and numerous telomere-associated proteins, including the six member Shelterin complex. The main function of the telomere is to stabilize the ends of the chromosomes. However, through multiple mechanisms, telomeres can become dysfunctional, which may drive genomic instability leading to the development of cancer. The majority of human cancers maintain, or actively lengthen, telomeres through up-regulation of the reverse transcriptase telomerase. Because there are significant differences in telomere length and telomerase activity between malignant and non-malignant tissues, many investigations have assessed the potential to utilize these molecular markers for cancer diagnosis. Here, we critically evaluate whether measurements of telomere lengths and telomerase levels may be clinically utilized as diagnostic markers in solid tumours, with emphasis on breast and prostate cancer as representative examples. Future directions focusing on the direct detection of dysfunctional telomeres are explored. New markers for telomere dysfunction may eventually prove clinically useful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1227-1238
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer
  • Detection
  • Diagnosis
  • Prostate cancer
  • Telomerase
  • Telomere
  • Telomere dysfunction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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