Telomeres, the protective structures of chromosome ends are gradually shortened by each cell division, eventually leading to senescence or apoptosis. Cancer cells maintain the telomere length for unlimited growth by telomerase reactivation or a recombination-based mechanism. Recent genome-wide analyses have unveiled genetic and epigenetic alterations of the telomere maintenance machinery in cancer. While telomerase inhibition reveals that longer telomeres are more advantageous for cell survival, cancer cells often have paradoxically shorter telomeres compared with those found in the normal tissues. In this review, we summarize the latest knowledge about telomere length alterations in cancer and revisit its rationality. Finally, we discuss the potential utility of telomere length as a prognostic biomarker.
Keywords: TERRA; TERT; biomarker; cancer; interferon stimulated gene; shelterin; telomerase; telomere; telomere position effect.