Telomeres are protective structures at the end of chromosomes, essential for chromosomal integrity. A large number of studies have investigated leukocyte telomere length as a possible risk marker for various cancers, colorectal cancer (CRC) included. In contrast, studies investigating leukocyte telomere length in relation to CRC survival are lacking. We previously reported that relative telomere length (RTL) of leukocytes collected at diagnosis predicted survival in patients with breast and kidney cancer. We suggested that these findings might reflect various immunological mechanisms, affected by the presence of a tumor. In the present study, leukocyte RTL was examined in relation to immune cell tumor infiltration and prognosis in 130 patients with CRC diagnosis. RTL was measured with a well-established qPCR method. We found that patients with the highest degree of lymphocyte tumor infiltration had shorter leukocyte RTL. Consistent with our previous findings, short RTL was a favorable prognostic marker in univariate survival analysis. In the current study, RTL did not remain as an independent predictor in multivariate survival analysis, when including metastatic status in the model. However, a non-significant trend towards a similar telomere-associated survival pattern was observed in patients with limited disease. In contrast, for patients who died of other causes than CRC, short RTL was associated with significantly shorter survival time. To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate an association between leukocyte RTL, immune cell tumor infiltration, and cancer-specific survival in CRC patients. Larger studies are warranted to verify these findings.
Keywords: Colorectal carcinoma; Immune cell infiltration; Peripheral leukocytes; Telomere length.