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Cancer Epidemiol. 2013 Aug;37(4):434-9. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2013.02.010. Epub 2013 Mar 21.

Telomere length and risk of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma.

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Department of Cancer Epidemiology, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, FL, USA.



Telomeres help maintain chromosomal structure and may influence tumorigenesis. We examined the association between telomere length and skin cancer in a clinic-based case-control study of 198 melanoma cases, 136 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cases, 185 basal cell carcinoma (BCC) cases, and 372 healthy controls.


Cases were histologically confirmed patients treated at the Moffitt Cancer Center and University of South Florida Dermatology Clinic in Tampa, FL. Controls self-reported no history of cancer and underwent a skin cancer screening exam at study enrollment to rule out the presence of skin cancer. Quantitative real time PCR was used to measure telomere length in peripheral blood samples.


Melanoma patients had longer telomeres than controls (odds ratio (OR)=3.75; 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.02-6.94 for highest versus lowest tertile) (P for trend=<0.0001). In contrast, longer telomere length was significantly inversely associated with SCC (OR=0.01; 95% CI: 0.00-0.05 for highest versus lowest tertile) (P for trend=<0.0001) and BCC (OR=0.10; 95% CI: 0.06-0.19 for highest versus lowest tertile) (P for trend=<0.0001).


Telomere length may be involved in the development of skin cancer, although the effect on cancer risk differs for melanoma and non-melanoma carcinomas. Our findings suggest that long telomere length is positively associated with melanoma while inversely associated with SCC and BCC.

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