Telomere length in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) has been shown to be of prognostic importance, but the analyses have largely been executed on heterogeneous patient cohorts outside of clinical trials. In the present study, we performed a comprehensive analysis of telomere length associations in the well characterized CLL8 trial (n = 620) of the German CLL study group, with validation in a representative cohort of the CLL4 trial (n = 293). Absolute telomere length was analyzed using quantitative-PCR. Apart from identifying associations of short telomere length with adverse prognostic factors and survival, the study identified cases with 17p- and 11q- associated with TP53 and ATM loss, respectively, to have the shortest telomeres, even when these aberrations were present in small subclones. Thus, telomere shortening may precede acquisition of the high-risk aberrations, contributing to disease evolution. In line with this, telomere shortening was associated with an increase in genomic complexity as well as clonal evolution, highlighting its importance as a biomarker especially in monitoring disease progression in non-high-risk CLL.