Short telomeres in peripheral blood leukocytes are associated with older age and age-related diseases. We tested the hypotheses that short telomeres are associated with both increased cancer mortality and all-cause mortality.
Individuals (n = 64637) were recruited from 1991 onwards from two Danish prospective cohort studies: the Copenhagen City Heart Study and the Copenhagen General Population Study. All had telomere length measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and the genotypes rs1317082 (TERC), rs7726159 (TERT), and rs2487999 (OBFC1) determined. The sum of telomere-shortening alleles from these three genotypes was calculated. We conducted Cox regression analyses and instrumental variable analyses using the allele sum as an instrument. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Among 7607 individuals who died during follow-up (0-22 years, median = 7 years), 2420 had cancer and 2633 had cardiovascular disease as causes of death. Decreasing telomere length deciles were associated with increasing all-cause mortality (P(trend) = 2*10(-15)). The multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio of all-cause mortality was 1.40 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.25 to 1.57) for individuals in the shortest vs the longest decile. Results were similar for cancer mortality and cardiovascular mortality. Telomere length decreased 69 base pairs (95% CI = 61 to 76) per allele for the allele sum, and the per-allele hazard ratio for cancer mortality was 0.95 (95% CI = 0.91 to 0.99). Allele sum was not associated with cardiovascular, other, or all-cause mortality.
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Short telomeres in peripheral blood leukocytes were associated with high mortality in association analyses. In contrast, genetically determined short telomeres were associated with low cancer mortality but not with all-cause mortality.