The human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) promoter promotes differential hTERT gene expression in tumor cells and normal cells. However, information on the mechanisms underlying the differential hTERT transcription and induction of telomerase activity in tumor cells is limited. In the present study, suppressor of Ty homolog-5 (SPT5), a protein encoded by the SUPT5H gene, was identified as a novel tumor-specific hTERT promoter-binding protein and activator in colon cancer cells. We verified the tumor-specific binding activity of SPT5 to the hTERT promoter in vitro and in vivo and detected high expression levels of SUPT5H in colorectal cancer cell lines and primary human colorectal cancer tissues. SUPT5H was more highly expressed in colorectal cancer cases with distant metastasis than in cases without distant metastasis. Inhibition of endogenous SUPT5H expression by SUPT5H gene-specific short hairpin RNAs effectively attenuated hTERT promoter-driven green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression, whereas no detectable effects on CMV promoter-driven GFP expression in the same cells were observed. In addition, inhibition of SUPT5H expression not only effectively repressed telomerase activity, accelerated telomere shortening, and promoted cell senescence in colon cancer cells, but also suppressed cancer cell growth and migration. Our results demonstrated that SPT5 contributes to the up-regulation of hTERT expression and tumor development, and SUPT5H may potentially be used as a novel tumor biomarker and/or cancer therapeutic target.