Telomeres Might Predict Lung Cancer Recurrence

Oct. 22, 2014

Telomeres are sections of DNA that tell an interesting story about lifespan. Shorter telomeres usually suggest a shorter life -- but new research by a Wilmot lung cancer expert shows that longer telomeres might be a promising biomarker for a recurrence of early stage lung cancer.lung cancer

In the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, Eric Kim, M.D., reports the first large-scale study to evaluate impact of telomere length in predicting whether the disease will return. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for 87 percent of all lung cancer cases in the U.S. and Kim followed 473 patients with this type for about five years. All patients had surgery to remove their tumors, but Kim wanted to find out which subgroups of people might benefit from chemotherapy in addition to surgery due to a higher risk of recurrence.

Scientists have known the telomere pathway is implicated in many types of cancer. Kim’s investigation not only found new connections to lung cancer, but also showed that women with a recurrence of adenocarcinoma (a type of lung tumor) had longer blood telomeres compared to patients without a recurrence. Estrogen may partly explain the gender difference in telomere length, the study said.

Kim’s research was conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center before he joined the Wilmot Cancer Institute team in 2012. Since then, he’s been building a robust program for Wilmot patients, which includes several clinical studies aimed at improving precision therapy by matching the genetic signature of a patient’s tumor with novel targeted treatments.

One of Kim’s nationwide trials, for example, is testing five new drugs, including immunotherapy, where a patient’s own immune system is employed to fight lung cancer. Eligible patients receive molecular profiling of their tumors at Wilmot, the only study site in the Finger Lakes region.

To learn more about the telomere research, click here.