Long Telomeres May Be Good For Heart Disease, Bad For Cancer Risk

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Philip C. Haycock, PhD MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit University of Bristol Bristol, England

Dr. Philip Haycock

Philip C. Haycock, PhD
MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit
University of Bristol
Bristol, England

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The direction and causal nature of the association of telomere length with risk of cancer and other diseases is uncertain. In a Mendelian randomization study of 83 non-communicable diseases, including 420,081 cases and 1,093,105 controls, we found that longer telomeres were associated with increased risk for several cancers but reduced risk for some other diseases, including cardiovascular diseases.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: These findings suggest that potential clinical applications based on telomere length, e.g. as a tool for risk prediction or as an intervention target for disease prevention, may have to consider a trade-off in risk between cancer and other diseases. For example, a number of companies offer telomere length measurement services to the public, claiming that shorter telomeres are a general indicator of poorer health status and older biological age and that such information can be used to motivate healthy lifestyle choices in individuals.

However, the conflicting direction of association between telomere length and risk of cancer and other diseases suggests that such services to the general public may be premature.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: More research is required to resolve whether telomere length is a useful predictor of risk that can help guide therapeutic interventions, to clarify the shape of any dose-response relationships and to characterise the nature of the association in population subgroups.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


The Telomeres Mendelian Randomization Collaboration. Association Between Telomere Length and Risk of Cancer and Non-Neoplastic DiseasesA Mendelian Randomization Study. JAMA Oncol. Published online February 23, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.5945

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Last Updated on February 25, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD