The role of telomere biology in cancer

Lifeng Xu, Shang Li, Bradley A. Stohr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Telomere biology plays a critical and complex role in the initiation and progression of cancer. Although telomere dysfunction resulting from replicative attrition constrains tumor growth by engaging DNA-damage signaling pathways, it can also promote tumorigenesis by causing oncogenic chromosomal rearrangements. Expression of the telomerase enzyme enables telomere-length homeostasis and allows tumor cells to escape the antiproliferative barrier posed by short telomeres. Telomeres and telomerase also function independently of one another. Recent work has suggested that telomerase promotes cell growth through pathways unrelated to telomere maintenance, and a subset of tumors elongate telomeres through telomerase-independent mechanisms. In an effort to exploit the integral link between telomere biology and cancer growth, investigators have developed several telomerase-based therapeutic strategies, which are currently in clinical trials. Here, we broadly review the state of the field with a particular focus on recent developments of interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-78
Number of pages30
JournalAnnual Review of Pathology: Mechanisms of Disease
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • Alternative lengthening of telomeres
  • Cancer therapy
  • Genome instability
  • Senescence
  • Telomere dysfunction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science
  • Medicine(all)


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