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

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


Background: 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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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).

Conclusion: 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.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Florida / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Risk
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Telomere / chemistry*
  • Young Adult