Immune senescence and cancer in elderly patients: Results from an exploratory study

Cristina Falci, Ketty Gianesin, Giuseppe Sergi, Silvia Giunco, Irene De Ronch, Sara Valpione, Caterina Soldà, Pasquale Fiduccia, Sara Lonardi, Marisa Zanchetta, Sonia Keppel, Antonella Brunello, Valeria Zafferri, Enzo Manzato, Anita De Rossi, Vittorina Zagonel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The challenge of immune senescence has never been addressed in elderly cancer patients. This study compares the thymic output and peripheral blood telomere length in ≥. 70. year old cancer patients. Patients and methods: Fifty-two elderly cancer patients and 39 age-matched controls without personal history of cancer were enrolled. All patients underwent a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA), from which a multidimensional prognostic index (MPI) score was calculated. Peripheral blood samples were studied for naïve and recent thymic emigrant (RTE) CD4+ and CD8+ cells by flow cytometry. T-cell receptor rearrangement excision circle (TREC) levels, telomere length and telomerase activity in peripheral blood cells were quantified by real-time PCR. Results: The percentages of CD8+ naïve and CD8+ RTE cells and TREC levels were significantly lower in cancer patients than in controls (p=0.003, p=0.004, p=0.031, respectively). Telomere lengths in peripheral blood cells were significantly shorter in cancer patients than in controls (p=0.046) and did not correlate with age in patients, whereas it did in controls (r=-0.354, p=0.031). Short telomere (≤median)/low TREC (≤median) profile was associated with higher risk of cancer (OR=3.68 [95% CI 1.22-11.11]; p=0.021). Neither unfitness on CGA nor MPI score were significantly related to thymic output or telomere length in either group. Conclusions: Immune senescence is significantly worse in elderly cancer patients than in age-matched controls. The low thymic output and the shorter telomeres in peripheral blood cells of cancer patients may reflect a pre-existing condition which facilitates the onset of malignancies in elderly people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1436-1442
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Gerontology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Cancer
  • Elderly
  • Immune senescence
  • Telomerase activity
  • Telomere length
  • Thymic output

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology


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