Cancer research is constantly pushing not only for cures and treatments for various types of cancer, but also for ways to detect cancer earlier and with more accuracy. Statistics show that early detection of cancer is linked to lower mortality rates, even in aggressive forms of cancer(1).
Now, scientists have discovered mounting evidence that a special part of chromosomes that function to protect DNA – the part is referred to as telomeres – may hold the key to early cancer detection. Telomeres are protective caps on the end of chromosomes.
As cells divide and multiply, telomeres become shorter to make up for added chromosomes, a process which may lead to disease(2) and, as researchers are discovering, may also be important in understanding the development of cancer in the body.
Researchers noted distinct patterns in the telomeres of people who had received a formal cancer diagnosis. The patterns suggest that cancer can essentially “hijack” the cell’s aging process.
In general, telomeres can look 15 years older in people developing cancer, when compared to the telomeres of people who are not developing cancer(3).
“Understanding this pattern of telomere growth may mean it can be a predictive biomarker for cancer,” said study leader Dr. Lifang Hou.
Dr. Hou believes that, because there was a strong relationship between patterns observed in a wide variety of cancers, “…with the right testing these procedures could be used to eventually diagnose a wide variety of cancers.”(4)