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Participants with the longest telomeres were found to have 33per cent higher odds of developing any cancer than those with the shortest telomeres. — AFP picParticipants with the longest telomeres were found to have 33per cent higher odds of developing any cancer than those with the shortest telomeres. — AFP pic

NEW YORK, April 4 — Telomeres — which play a role in the aging process and age-related pathogens — are “caps” of DNA that protect the tips of chromosomes. A new study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, USA, suggests that telomere length could predict cancer risk.

Chromosomes’ protective tips, called telomeres — from the Greek “telos” meaning end and “meros” meaning part — that are longer than expected could be associated with increased cancer risk, according to an extensive study led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in the USA.

The scientists analysed data from more than 28,000 Chinese people enrolled in the Singapore Chinese Health Study, which has followed participants since 1993. Participants were split into five groups, based on how much longer their telomeres were than expected. As of the end of 2015, 4,060 participants had developed cancer.

After analysing participants’ blood samples and health data, those with the longest telomeres were found to have 33per cent higher odds of developing any cancer than those with the shortest telomeres. 

This group was also found to have 66per cent higher odds of developing lung cancer, 55per cent higher odds of developing prostate cancer, 39per cent higher odds of developing breast cancer and 37per cent higher odds of developing colourectal cancer.

According to the study, pancreatic cancer saw the largest increase in incidence related to longer telomeres. Only liver cancer risk was reduced with longer telomeres.

Moreover, the scientists found that for three types of cancer, the risk was greatest for groups with both extremely short and extremely long telomeres. Participants in the group with the shortest telomeres had 63per cent higher odds of stomach cancer, 72per cent higher odds of bladder cancer and 115per cent higher odds of leukemia than the group in the middle of the curve. The group with the longest telomeres had 55per cent higher odds of stomach cancer, 117per cent higher odds of bladder cancer and 68per cent higher odds of leukemia.

The findings, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, could one day help predict who is most at risk from certain cancers, the scientists conclude, allowing them to implement preventative lifestyle measures to help keep telomeres — associated with cell survival — at a healthy length.

Stress, lack of exercise, dietary factors, negative thoughts, conflicts and exposure to toxic substances can all prove detrimental to the telomere effect, as outlined by Elizabeth Blackburn — who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for her work identifying the protective effect of telomeres on health — in her recent book “The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer.” 

The study is available here. — AFP-Relaxnews

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