Prostate Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Racial Differences in Telomere Length in Prostate Cancer Cells

By: Anna Nowogrodzki
Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Self-identified black men with higher-grade prostate cancer were more likely than white men with the same cancer type to have variable cancer cell telomere length, an adverse phenotype, according to a recent retrospective study. According to Elizabeth A. Platz, ScD, MPH, of Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues, these findings “may suggest a possible explanation for the racial disparity in prostate cancer outcomes.” The study results were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The researchers measured the telomere lengths of 127 self-reported black men and 123 white men at Johns Hopkins who had all been surgically treated for prostate cancer. The authors frequency-matched black and white men for age at diagnosis, Gleason score (grade group), and pathologic status. Patients were divided into a higher-grade group (Gleason sum of 4+3 or greater) and a lower-grade group.

In the higher-grade group, 47% of black men had more variable cancer cell telomere lengths, compared with 21% of white men—a statistically significant difference. However, in the lower-grade group, telomere length variability did not differ between black and white men.

This study is limited by the fact that black and white are not discrete categories from a genetic standpoint: one person could identify as black with one Nigerian parent and one British parent, a second person could identify as white with two British parents, and a third could identify as black with a South African and a Polish parent. Consequently, the two black people would not be genetically more similar to each other than to the white person.

Disclosure: The authors’ disclosures can be found at

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