Oncology patients 50 years and younger had abnormally short telomeres.

Mayo Clinic researchers linked an abnormality in chromosomes usually associated with diseases of aging to colon cancer in people 50 years old and younger.

The scientists examined telomeres, which are the caps on the ends of chromosomes that keep chromosomes from unraveling. Telomeres naturally shorten with time and are associated with many diseases of aging, including cancer.

The team examined the DNA in blood samples of 114 colon cancer patients 50 years old and younger and 98 people with no history of cancer. They found that the colon cancer patients had abnormal telomeres that were unusually short, particularly for a group of patients considered young for colon cancer.

“Finding this association between colon cancer patients and increased telomere shortening is exciting because, if validated, it really opens up new possibilities for new treatment strategies. For example, we know that telomere length can be repaired, so we want to look at telomere maintenance genes which, when defective, might very well contribute to cancer,” said Lisa Boardman, M.D., a specialist in gastrointestinal malignancies and team leader.

The study results were presented October 27 during “The American Society of Human Genetics’ 57th Annual meeting” in San Diego.

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