A Step Forward in the War on Cancer

Cancer is a disease involving rapid and abnormal cell growth. The cells undergoing mitosis never get signals to stop (or to undergo apoptosis), so they continue to divide. These cells have the potential to spread to other parts of the body; making it particular dangerous. There are over 100 different cancers that are known. Cancer can be caused by tobacco, poor diet, copious amounts of alcohol and many other environmental factors; and it can also be genetic. About 5-10% of cancers are inherited. These are the ones that unfortunately cannot be prevented. In 2012 alone cancer was the cause of 8.2 million deaths worldwide.

There are, of coarse, several different methods of treating cancer; radiation, chemotherapy, or even surgery if the cancer has not yet spread to other parts of the body. These are the three most common ways; but there is also immunotherapy and palliative care (essentially treating a person’s quality of life instead of treating the actual cancer, it is generally used when there are no other options). Unfortunately there are so many different types of cancers that it is difficult to treat. About half of people receiving treatment die form cancer; or even the treatment itself. Of coarse the survival rates depend on the type of cancer but tumors often have genetic variability. Because of this, treatment for the cancer a patient has is often unnecessary or the wrong kind so the patient dies from the medicine. Or the cancer is not properly treated leading to the same tragic outcome. And tumors with high variability (called intra-tumor heterogeneity) are the biggest killers. But a recent study shows a new way for oncologists to treat these cancers.

According to a new study at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center there is a new way to measure genetic variability in a tumor. This might could aid doctors identify cancers that will resist therapy more. This new method is called MATH (mutant- allele tumor heterogeneity). The higher the MATH score of a tumor the more gene mutations present. High genetic variability in cancers usually correlated with a lesser amount of survivors among patients.

James Rocco at the Ohio State Cancer Center developed MATH to help oncologists with treatment decisions depending on the genetic variability in the tumor. Rocco and his colleagues analyzed 305 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma(a cancer derived form epithelial cells) patients that were chosen from The Cancer Genome Atlas; this institutes has available data of samples from 11,00 patients and has cataloged 33 tumor types with them. They used the MATH technique. The researchers were able to confirm that higher genetic frequency was associated with a higher mortality rate. There was an 8.8% increase of possible death with every 10% increase in MATH score. Using this information, Rocco, his team, and other oncologists hope that they can discover the overall survival for any type of cancer; and help predict the type of treatment a patient will need to better their chances of survival.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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