(RT) – Following a 13-year study, US scientists have identified a specific pattern of change in the length of a biomarker present in cells, which occurs many years before a patient begins suffering symptoms of cancer.
A joint team from Harvard and Northwestern monitored 792 initially cancer-free people for the period, 135 of who were eventually diagnosed with various forms of the illness. In those years, they constantly monitored their telomeres.
Telomeres serve as a protective cap on the ends of chromosomes. As people age, and their cells replicate more and more times, the
telomeres grow shorter, until eventually the cell cannot be multiplied again, and simply dies. They can be both an indicator
of ageing — a sort of internal body clock – and a cause of it, as cells with worn-down telomeres can malfunction, causing a range
of age-related diseases.
Those who were eventually diagnosed with cancer saw their telomeres depleted alarmingly many years before it actually
developed — with some future patients having telomeres that are typical for a person 15 years older.
Some of this catastrophic shortening could be predicted and diagnosed externally — for example simply by looking at patients who already suffering from inflammations, oxidative stress and other conditions that age their cells at a rapid rate. But in other people, who appeared to have few external risk factors for cancer, measuring this rate could produce a revelatory diagnosis.
But this is not the most surprising part of the study.