Doctors examined the DNA in immune cells drawn from blood samples provided by 441 men who later developed prostate cancer, as well as 421 men who did not develop prostate cancer.
The researchers found that among the men who developed prostate cancer, those with the shortest telomeres in their immune cell chromosomes were more than twice as likely to have developed aggressive prostate cancer compared to those men who had the longest telomeres.
Smoking appears to play a strong role. When the researchers narrowed their analysis down to current or former smokers, they found that those with the shortest telomeres in their immune cells were more than four times as likely to have developed aggressive prostate cancer.
"We don't yet know why having short telomeres in blood leukocytes [white blood cells] seems to be associated with risk of aggressive prostate cancer," researcher Elizabeth Platz, a professor in the department of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in a conference news release.
"It may tell us about a person's exposure to factors that increase their risk of prostate cancer, or it may be an indication of an inherent inability to maintain telomere length, which could put them at increased risk for this disease," Platz said. "If so, it might be that measuring telomere length in blood leukocytes could even predict risk of many different forms of cancer."
Because the studies were presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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