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Telomeres cap chromosome ends, protecting them from degradation, double-strand breaks, and end-to-end fusions. Telomeres are maintained by telomerase, a reverse transcriptase encoded by TERT, and an RNA template encoded by TERC. Loci in the TERT and adjoining CLPTM1L region are associated with risk of multiple cancers. We therefore investigated associations between variants in 22 telomere structure and maintenance gene regions and colorectal, breast, prostate, ovarian, and lung cancer risk. We performed subset-based meta-analyses of 204,993 directly-measured and imputed SNPs among 61,851 cancer cases and 74,457 controls of European descent. Independent associations for SNP minor alleles were identified using sequential conditional analysis (with gene-level p value cutoffs ≤3.08 × 10-5 ). Of the thirteen independent SNPs observed to be associated with cancer risk, novel findings were observed for seven loci. Across the DCLRE1B region, rs974494 and rs12144215 were inversely associated with prostate and lung cancers, and colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, respectively. Across the TERC region, rs75316749 was positively associated with colorectal, breast, ovarian, and lung cancers. Across the DCLRE1B region, rs974404 and rs12144215 were inversely associated with prostate and lung cancers, and colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers, respectively. Near POT1, rs116895242 was inversely associated with colorectal, ovarian, and lung cancers, and RTEL1 rs34978822 was inversely associated with prostate and lung cancers. The complex association patterns in telomere-related genes across cancer types may provide insight into mechanisms through which telomere dysfunction in different tissues influences cancer risk.

Original publication




Journal article


International journal of cancer

Publication Date





2655 - 2670


Department of Epidemiology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, NH.


GECCO and the GAME-ON Network: CORECT, DRIVE, ELLIPSE, FOCI, and TRICL, Telomere, Humans, Neoplasms, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Telomerase, Odds Ratio, Risk, Case-Control Studies, Linkage Disequilibrium, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Alleles, European Continental Ancestry Group, Genetic Variation, Genome-Wide Association Study, Genetic Association Studies, Telomere Homeostasis