The enzyme telomerase maintains a constant telomere length in immortalized cells, allowing unlimited cell proliferation. Almost all cancer cells express telomerase activity. However, little data is available regarding the role of telomerase activity in the detection of bladder cancer with a bladder wash specimen. We detected telomerase activity in a bladder wash specimen of bladder cancer and normal tissues, and compared them with final pathologic diagnosis. Tewnty-three patients with transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) of the bladder were enrolled in our study. A bladder wash specimen was obtained before transurethral resection of the bladder (TURB) and normal and cancer tissues from the same patients during TURB. Telomerase activity was analyzed in each specimen a using telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) assay based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. Cytologic diagnosis was performed using Papanicolaou's stain with cytocentrifuged cytology preparation. We observed telomerase activity in 95.7% (22/23) of both cancer tissues and bladder wash specimens; only one case did not express telomerase activity. Telomerase activity was undetected in all normal tissues except one, which was obtained from a patient with carcinoma in situ. A total of 69.6% (16/23) of wash specimens were positive in cytopathologic diagnosis. The accuracy of cytopathologic diagnosis in pathologic grade 2 or 3 was relatively high (83.3%, 15/18). However, in five cases of grade 1 TCC only 20% (1/5) of cytologie diagnosis was positive whereas the telomerase activity of wash specimens was detected in 80% (4/5). Our data demonstrates that not only the majority of human bladder cancer tissues, but also the bladder wash specimens obtained from patients with TCC, expressed telomerase activity. It indicates that telomerase activity may be a reliable marker in detecting bladder cancer especially in cases with a low grade that bladder wash cytology can miss.
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