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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the authors' final version prior to publication in European Journal of Cancer

Volume 48, Issue 7, May 2012, Pages 1014-1022

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1016/j.ejca.2012.02.066. Copyright © Elsevier Inc.


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Telomere length has emerged as a promising risk predictor of various cancers including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the majority of studies in this area measured telomere length in hepatocytes and one in lymphocytes with conflicting results. Moreover, no studies have been reported on using circulating DNA telomere length as a non-invasive HCC biomarker.

METHODS: We conducted a nested case-control study to determine the relative telomere length (RTL) in serum DNA from 140 hepatitis B virus (HBV)-related HCC cases and 280 frequency-matched cancer-free HBV controls.

RESULTS: Cases had a significantly longer RTL (median, 0.31; range, 0.02-2.31) than controls (median, 0.20; range, 0.01-1.60) (P = 0.003). Consistently, longer RTLs conferred a significantly increased HCC risk compared to short RTLs in a univariate logistic regression analysis (odds ratio [OR] = 1.55, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.02-2.33, P = 0.038). This association attenuated after multivariate adjustment (OR = 1.40, 95% CI = 0.90-2.19, P = 0.132). In a quartile analysis, a significant dose-response relationship was noted in univariate analysis (P(trend) = 0.017) which was again attenuated in multivariate analysis (P(trend) = 0.079). Further analyses revealed that the significant association between serum RTL and HCC risk was evident in non-cirrhotic (OR = 3.54, 95% CI 1.58-7.93 P = 0.002), but not cirrhotic (OR = 0.95, 95% CI 0.55-1.64, P = 0.860) HBV patients. Moreover, the significantly increased HCC risk conferred by cirrhosis was modulated by RTL with a significant interaction effect (P(interaction) = 0.013).

CONCLUSIONS: RTL in circulating cell-free serum DNA could potentially be used as a novel non-invasive biomarker for non-cirrhotic HCC. Prospective cohort studies are warranted to validate this finding and assess its clinical significance in HCC prevention.

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