ABSTRACTShortening of the telomeric DNA at the chromosome ends is presumed to limit the lifespan of human cells and elicit a signal for the onset of cellular senescence. To continually proliferate across the senescent checkpoint, cells must restore and preserve telomere length. This can be achieved by telomerase, which has the reverse transcriptase activity. Telomerase activity is negative in human normal somatic cells but can be detected in most tumor cells. The enzyme is proposed to be an essential factor in cell immortalization and cancer progression. In this review we discuss the structure and function of telomere and telomerase and their roles in cell immortalization and oncogenesis. Simultaneously the experimental studies of telomerase assays for cancer detection and diagnosis are reviewed. Finally, we discuss the potential use of inhibitors of telomerase in anti-cancer therapy.