Thyroid carcinomas that express telomerase follow a more aggressive clinical course in children and adolescents.J Endocrinol Invest. 2002 Apr; 25(4):302-8.JE
With each cell division, DNA is lost from the telomeres, limiting the number of divisions, and leading to senescence. Malignant tumors maintain immortality by expressing a specific DNA repair enzyme, telomerase, that replaces this DNA. We hypothesized that tumors which express telomerase would have the highest recurrence risk and we tested this by determining telomerase expression in 27 papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTC), 5 follicular thyroid carcinomas (FTC) and 13 benign thyroid lesions from children and adolescents. Patients were 6-21 yr of age (mean+/-SE=16.6+/-4.1 yr) and followed from 0-14.1 yr (mean+/-SE=4.71+/-3.5 yr). Original tumors were sectioned, and immunostained for telomerase. Telomerase-specific staining was determined by two independent, blind examiners and graded from absent (Grade 0) to intense (Grade 3). Telomerase was detected in a similar majority of benign (11/13, 85%) and malignant tumors (24/32, 75%). However, the intensity of telomerase expression was greater among FTC (mean+/-SE=2.4+/-0.5 relative intensity) followed by PTC (mean+/-SE=1.9+/-1.0 relative intensity) and benign tumors (mean+/-SE=1.8+/-1.0 relative intensity). Autoimmune lesions had lower telomerase expression (mean+/-SE=1.25+/-0.5 relative intensity) compared to FTC (p=0.01), PTC (p=0.06) and benign lesions (p=0.15). Among PTC, 19 (70%) expressed telomerase, and 8 (30%) did not. Direct invasion (no.=4, 21%), distant metastasis (no.=2, 10%) and recurrence (no.=7, 37%) developed exclusively in PTC that expressed telomerase (p=0.02). Disease-free survival was also shorter for PTC that expressed telomerase (p=0.06). Recurrence developed in 1/2 (50%) FTC that expressed telomerase. We conclude that childhood thyroid cancers which express telomerase have an increased risk of tissue invasion, metastasis, and recurrence.