Studies of invasive breast cancers consistently identify a subset of tumors without telomerase activity, compromising its utility as a tumor marker. Telomerase-negative tumors may represent a biologically different subset, or the result could be attributed to assay imperfections. To resolve this issue, we tested 105 invasive breast cancers for telomerase activity and found that 23 (22%) tumors were telomerase negative. Careful histological confirmation of an adjacent cryosection and/or microdissection of pure tumor cells reduced this number to 5 (5%). Thus, truly telomerase-negative invasive breast cancers are rare, making this enzyme a potentially very useful tumor marker in breast cancer.

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