Study Finds Link Between Telomere Length and Sociodemographic Circumstances Linked to Neighborhood

Get Permission

Error loading Partial View script (file: ~/Views/MacroPartials/TAP Article Portrait Widget.cshtml)

Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have begun to establish a biologic basis for the long-held but not well-tested theory that neighborhood exposures can impact health outcomes. Shannon Lynch, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase, led a team that found that a biomarker implicated in cancer, telomere length, could be influenced by sociodemographic circumstances associated with neighborhood. The study was published by Lynch et al in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention1 in a special focus issue on geospatial approaches to cancer control and population sciences.

Study Findings

This study bridges the social and biologic sciences through methodologic approaches that test whether neighborhood can impact cancer risk. Dr. Lynch and her colleagues sought to determine the independent effect of neighborhood exposures on telomere length using standard multilevel linear regression models and quantile regression—a nonlinear method from social science that had not been previously used in biomarker studies. They tested the effects for population density, urban crowding, residential stability, socioeconomic status, and others, finding that telomeres can be shortened by some of these neighborhood circumstances.

“This study highlights the importance of considering multilevel risk factors and their effects on biologic processes related to cancer,” Dr. Lynch said. “It complements existing studies demonstrating associations between neighborhood and cancer outcomes by showing how social environment might influence disease through biology.”

The group recently published a new methodology, which compared more than 14,000 neighborhood variables with prostate cancer aggressiveness and identified 17 that were most significantly associated with advanced prostate cancer in white men.

Future studies are needed, Dr. Lynch said, including investigating the ways that underlying genetics and social environment can affect telomere length and how this information could be used to develop interventions to possibly increase telomere length. ■

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit


1. Lynch SM, Mitra N, Ravichandran K, et al: Telomere length and neighborhood circumstances: evaluating biological response to unfavorable exposures. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 26:553-560, 2017.