Truncated telomeres are among the defining characteristics of most carcinomas. Given the role of telomeres in tumorigenesis, we reasoned that constitutionally short telomeres might be associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer. Using quantitative real-time PCR, we measured relative telomere length in bladder cancer cases and healthy controls and evaluated the association between telomere length, cigarette smoking, and bladder cancer risk in a case-control study nested within the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and a case-control study nested within the Nurses' Health Study. Telomeres were significantly shorter in bladder cancer cases (n = 184) than in controls (n = 192). The mean relative telomere length in cases was 0.23 (SD, 0.16) versus 0.27 (SD, 0.15) in controls (P = 0.001). The adjusted odds ratio for bladder cancer was 1.88 (95% confidence interval, 1.05, 3.36) for individuals in the quartile with the shortest telomeres as compared with individuals in the quartile with the longest telomeres (Ptrend = 0.006). We observed a statistically significant difference in telomere length among men and women (P < 0.001); however, the interaction between gender, telomere length, and bladder cancer risk was not significant. We also observed a significant difference in telomere length across categories of pack-years of smoking (P = 0.01). These findings suggest that truncated telomeres are associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.
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