Liver cancer is one of the most common cancer types worldwide and the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death. Liver carcinoma is distinguished by a high heterogeneity in pathogenesis, histopathology and biological behavior. Dysregulated signaling pathways and various gene mutations are frequent in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (iCCA), which represent the two most common types of liver tumors. Both tumor types are characterized by telomere shortening and reactivation of telomerase during carcinogenesis. Continuous cell proliferation, e.g., by oncogenic mutations, can cause extensive telomere shortening in the absence of sufficient telomerase activity, leading to dysfunctional telomeres and genome instability by breakage–fusion–bridge cycles, which induce senescence or apoptosis as a tumor suppressor mechanism. Telomerase reactivation is required to stabilize telomere functionality and for tumor cell survival, representing a genetic risk factor for the development of liver cirrhosis and liver carcinoma. Therefore, telomeres and telomerase could be useful targets in hepatocarcinogenesis. Here, we review similarities and differences between HCC and iCCA in telomere biology.
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