Telomere length reflects lifetime cumulative oxidative stress from environmental exposures, such as cigarette smoking and chronic inflammation. Shortened telomere length is thought to cause genomic instability and has been associated with several cancers. We examined the association of telomere length in peripheral leukocyte DNA with gastric cancer risk as well as potential confounding factors and risk modifiers for telomere length-related risk. In a population-based study of gastric cancer conducted in a high-risk population in Warsaw, Poland, between 1994 and 1996, we measured relative telomere length in 300 cases and 416 age-and gender-matched controls using quantitative real-time PCR. Among controls, telomeres were significantly shorter in association with aging (P < 0.001), increasing pack-years of cigarette smoking (P = 0.02), decreasing fruit intake (P = 0.04), and Helicobacter pylori positivity (P = 0.03). Gastric cancer cases had significantly shorter telomere length (mean ± SD relative telomere length, 1.25 ± 0.34) than controls (1.34 ± 0.35; P = 0.0008). Gastric cancer risk doubled [odds ratio (OR), 2.04; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 1.33-3.13] among subjects in the shortest compared with the highest quartile of telomere length (Ptrend < 0.001). Telomere length-associated risks were higher among individuals with the lowest risk profile, those H. pylori-negative (OR, 5.45; 95% CI, 2.10-14.1), nonsmokers (OR, 3.07; 95% CI, 1.71-5.51), and individuals with high intake of fruits (OR, 2.43; 95% CI, 1.46-4.05) or vegetables (OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 1.51-3.81). Our results suggest that telomere length in peripheral leukocyte DNAwas associated with H. pylori positivity, cigarette smoking, and dietary fruit intake. Shortened telomeres increased gastric cancer risk in this high-risk Polish population.
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