The importance of telomere length to human health, aging, and cancer continues to be underappreciated. This review examines some basics of telomere biology and relates how telomere function, telomerase activity, and mutations in TERC or TERT are involved in bone marrow failure, leukemias, and other cancers. Given the challenge to obtain accurate data on telomerase activity and telomere length in specific cell types, the situation in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) remains puzzling. In most cancers, telomerase levels are increased after cells have encountered a "telomere crisis," which is typically associated with poor prognosis. Cells emerging from "telomere crisis" have defective DNA damage responses, resulting, for example, from loss of p53. Such cells often express elevated telomerase levels as a result of point mutations in the TERT promoter or amplification of the TERT gene. While telomeres in AML blasts are typically shorter than expected for normal leukocytes, most AML cells do not show evidence of having gone through a "telomere crisis." In chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), the difference between the telomere length in nonmalignant T cells and malignant blasts from the same patient was found to correlate with the remaining duration of the chronic phase. This observation supports that a mitotic clock is ticking in CML stem cells and that disease progression in CML heralds the onset of a "telomere crisis." The presence of very short telomeres in tumor cells was found to predict disease progression in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, myeloma, and various solid tumors. In view of these findings longitudinal studies of telomere length in AML appear worthwhile.