Purpose: Shorter constitutional telomere length has been associated with increased cancer incidence. Furthermore, telomere shortening is observed in response to intensive chemotherapy and/or ionizing radiation exposure. We aimed to determine whether less telomere content was associated with treatment-related second malignant neoplasms (SMN) in childhood cancer survivors.
Experimental design: Using a nested case-control design, 147 cancer survivors with breast cancer, thyroid cancer, or sarcoma developing after treatment for childhood cancer (cases) were matched (1:1) with childhood cancer survivors without a SMN (controls). Cases and controls were matched by primary cancer diagnosis, years since diagnosis, age at the time of sample collection, years of follow-up from childhood cancer diagnosis, exposure to specific chemotherapy agents, and to specific radiation fields. We performed conditional logistic regression using telomere content as a continuous variable to estimate ORs with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) for development of SMN. ORs were also estimated for specific SMN types, i.e., breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and sarcoma.
Results: There was an inverse relationship between telomere content and SMN, with an adjusted OR of 0.3 per unit change in telomere length to single-copy gene ratio (95% CI, 0.09-1.02; P = 0.05). Patients with thyroid cancer SMN were less likely to have more telomere content (OR, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.00-0.55; P = 0.01), but statistically significant associations could not be demonstrated for breast cancer or sarcoma.
Conclusions: A relation between less telomere content and treatment-related thyroid cancer was observed, suggesting that shorter telomeres may contribute to certain SMNs in childhood cancer survivors.