Telomerase Assays in the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Cancer

  1. Derek J. Chadwick Organizer and
  2. Gail Cardew Organizer
  1. Jerry W. Shay,
  2. Harold Werbin and
  3. Woodring E. Wright

Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

DOI: 10.1002/9780470515433.ch10

Ciba Foundation Symposium 211 - Telomeres and Telomerase

Ciba Foundation Symposium 211 - Telomeres and Telomerase

How to Cite

Shay, J. W., Werbin, H. and Wright, W. E. (2007) Telomerase Assays in the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Cancer, in Ciba Foundation Symposium 211 - Telomeres and Telomerase (eds D. J. Chadwick and G. Cardew), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470515433.ch10

Author Information

  1. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75235-9039, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780471972785

Online ISBN: 9780470515433



  • telomerase assays;
  • cancer diagnosis;
  • cancer prognosis;
  • hybridization methods;
  • cell proliferation


Telomcrase activity is present in most primary human tumours but not in normal somatic tissues except for proliferative cells of renewal tissues (e.g. crypts of the intestine, basal layer of the epidermis, haemopoietic and inflammatory cells). In some instances telomerase activity is detected in preinvasive lesions, whereas in others it is only detected at later stages. Lower telomerase activity levels are detected in some specimens obtained from regions adjacent to primary tumours. The key clinical challenge is to determine if the presence or level of telomerase activity has diagnostic or prognostic utility. Almost any clinical specimen can be used to assay telomerase activity including frozen sections, fine needle aspirates, brushes, washes and sedimented cells in voided urine. In certain cancers increased telomerase activity levels may identify patients that will have either favourable or poor prognostic outcomes, whereas in other instances telomerase activity can distinguish between benign and malignant lesions. New approaches to improve the diagnostic value of telomerase determinations include application of in situ hybridization methods for detecting human telomerase RNA expression on archival paraffin-embedded material. Results show that this assay easily distinguishes cancer from normal cells, and thus may complement the telomerase activity assays.