More than 50 years ago, Papanicolaou recognized the importance of a non-invasive technique for the diagnosis and follow-up of patients with carcinoma of the urinary bladder. Cystoscopy, however, has remained the 'gold standard' since no currently available non-invasive method can compete with cystoscopy's sensitivity and specificity. The detection of the ribonucleoprotein telomerase or the telomerase subunits human telomerase RNA (hTR) and human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) in urine samples offer new diagnostic perspectives. The present article presents a review of publications in the literature and evaluates their clinical relevance. The experimental studies reported to date are very promising and show that telomerase exactly fulfils the requirements for a good diagnostic marker for carcinoma of the urinary bladder. The diagnostic application remains in an experimental stage and telomerase is still several steps away for routine use as a clinical parameter. The remaining steps leading to its routine clinical application will be discussed.