Leucocytes telomere length and breast cancer risk/ susceptibility: A case-control study

PLoS One. 2018 May 21;13(5):e0197522. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197522. eCollection 2018.


Background: Telomere length in peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL-TL) was proposed as a biomarker of cancer risk. Recent scientific evidence suggested PBL-TL plays a diverse role in different cancers. Inconsistent results were obtained on PBL-TL in relation to breast cancer risk and specifically to the presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. The aim of the present case-control study was to analyse the correlation between family history of breast cancer or presence of a BRCA mutation and PBL-TL in the hypothesis that TL is a modifier of cancer risk.

Methods: PBL-TL was measured using the real-time quantitative PCR method in DNA for 142 cases and 239 controls. All the women enrolled were characterized for cancer family history. A subgroup of 48 women were classified for the presence of a BRCA mutation. PBL-TL were summarized as means and standard deviations, and compared by standard analysis of variance. A multivariable Generalised Linear Model was fitted to the data with PBL-TL as the dependent variable, case/control status and presence of a BRCA/VUS mutation as factors, and age in 4 strata as a covariate.

Results: Age was significantly associated with decreasing PBL-TL in controls (p = 0.01), but not in BC cases. The telomere length is shorter in cases than in controls after adjusting for age. No effect on PBL-TL of BMI, smoke nor of the most common risk factors for breast cancer was observed. No association between PBL-TL and family history was detected both in BC cases and controls. In the multivariate model, no association was observed between BRCA mutation and decreased PBL-TL. A statistically significant interaction (p = 0.031) between case-control status and a BRCA-mutation/VUS was observed, but no effect was detected for the interaction of cancer status and BRCA or VUS.

Conclusion: Our study fails to provide support to the hypothesis that PBL-TL is associated with the risk of hereditary BC, or that is a marker of inherited mutations in BRCA genes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1
  • Genes, BRCA2
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Linear Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Mutation
  • Risk Factors
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Telomere Homeostasis / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Grant support

This work was supported by the Italian Association for Research on Cancer (AIRC), Project IG 5706 2008. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.