The role of telomere biology in cancer has been studied for a wide variety of different cancers but the association with telomere length has been controversial. This is because some cancers have been found to be associated with longer telomeres in circulating white cells whilst other cancer types are more common in individuals with shorter telomeres. Hence, there has been some skepticism as to whether telomere length may be helpful in estimating cancer risk. For melanoma, however, results have been fairly consistent showing that longer telomeres are associated with an increased risk. This link was first discovered because of a link between longer telomeres and a high number of naevi. In contrast, for cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas, the relationship is reversed with higher risk in individuals with shorter telomeres. Differences in skin phenotypes with the presence of high number of naevi versus photoageing with solar elastosis and solar keratoses have already been valuable for dermatologists as the former phenotype is associated with melanoma whilst the latter is more common in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. The hypothesis is that the differences in cutaneous phenotypes already observed by dermatologists for skin cancers may, in fact, be useful as well for cancer prediction in general as it may reflect underlying telomere biology. This manuscript will address the evidence for links between telomere biology, skin phenotypes and cancer risk.
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