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Mouse models show that progressive shortening of telomeres with ageing causes chromosomal instability, which can lead to the initiation of cancer. However, it is unclear what roles telomere shortening plays in human carcinogenesis. The present study has investigated the involvement of telomere dynamics in uterine carcinogenesis. Using telomere-FISH (telo-FISH) assays, telomere lengths in premalignant and malignant cervical and endometrial lesions were measured and compared with chromosomal arm loss or gain. Telo-FISH signals were visualized with Cy3-labelled telomere-specific probes and presented as telomere intensity (TI). Early-stage cervical intraepithelial neoplasias (CINs), especially CIN2, had significantly shorter telomeres than corresponding normal squamous epithelia (p= 0.019), together with increased rates of chromosomal arm loss/gain (p< 0.001). Cervical cancers had relatively short telomeres, but they also showed greater heterogeneity than other sampled tissues, including those with long telomeres. In contrast, there was no significant difference between the telomere length of normal endometrium and of endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer. There was no significant difference in the rate of chromosomal arm loss/gain between normal endometrium and endometrial hyperplasia. These findings suggest that progressive shortening of telomeres occurs in CIN, in association with chromosomal instability, which may play critical roles in cervical carcinogenesis. In contrast, endometrial hyperplasias have relatively stable telomeres without widespread chromosome alteration, implying that endometrial carcinogenesis involves mechanisms distinct from those of cervical carcinogenesis, possibly including microsatellite instability. Copyright © 2006 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.