Telomere shortening occurs in many organs and tissues and is accelerated by oxidative injury and rapid cell turnover. Short telomeres initiate chromosomal instability and may eventually contribute to tumorigenesis. To evaluate telomere length as potential biomarker for gastric cancer (GC) risk, we measured average telomere length using quantitative real-time PCR in GC tissues and in non-neoplastic mucosa from patients with GC and without GC. We obtained of 217 GC patients matched biopsies from the GC and adjacent tissues as well as gastric biopsies of 102 subjects without GC. Relative telomere length was measured in genomic DNA by real-time PCR. Relative telomere length decreased gradually in Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) negative and positive gastric mucosa of GC free subjects compared with adjacent mucosa and cancer tissue from GC patients (4.03 ± 0.3 vs. 2.82 ± 0.19 vs. 0.82 ± 0.07 vs. 0.29 ± 0.09, P < 0.0001). In non-neoplastic mucosa of GC patients, shorter telomeres were found significantly more often than in that of GC free subjects (age, sex, and H. pylori adjusted odds ratio = 7.81, 95 % confidence interval = 4.71–12.9, P < 0.0001). Telomere shortening in non-neoplastic mucosa was associated with chronic inflammation (P = 0.0018) and intestinal metaplasia (P < 0.0001). No significant associations were found between relative telomere length and clinicopathological features of GC and overall survival. Telomere shortening in gastric mucosa reflects a field effect in an early stage of carcinogenesis and is associated with an increased risk of GC. Telomere length in GC is not associated with clinicopathological features or prognosis.
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