Taking uncertainty out of cancer prognosis

December 11, 2018

Cold Spring Harbor, NY -- A cancer diagnosis tells you that you have cancer, but how that cancer will progress is a terrifying uncertainty for most patients. Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have now identified a specific class of biomarkers that can tell a lot about how aggressive a patient's cancer will be.

"There are undoubtedly dozens or hundreds of mutations that cause cancer, and that can be found in almost any tumor," said CSHL Fellow Jason Sheltzer. "That's why it was surprising to discover that these mutations are pretty evenly distributed in early-stage benign cancer as well as in the really aggressive, highly-malignant cancers."

In other words, the mutations that cause cancer don't actually tell you all that much about who will end up surviving and who will end up dying from cancer.

That's why Sheltzer set out to find other easily identifiable factors that can determine a cancer patient's prognosis. With the aid of software engineer Joan Smith, Sheltzer collected and analyzed the comprehensive history of nearly 20,000 cancer patients.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoiB1mAhA2g

According to a paper recently published in the journal eLife, his team not only traced each patient's outcome--whether it be recovery or tragedy--but also took a closer look at genetic sites commonly associated with cancer causing mutations.

"While there wasn't very much of a difference in the types of mutations that benign and aggressive tumors had," said Sheltzer, "when we looked at copy number changes in these same genes, we found a very significant difference."

Normally, the genetic information in a human cell comes in two copies distributed among 23 pairs of chromosomes. However, cancer cells often gain or lose chromosomes.

"A lot of cancers instead of having two copies of a gene, will have three copies, four copies, five copies, or only one copy of a gene instead," explained Sheltzer. "We looked at the relationship between these copy number alterations and what happens to cancer patients and found a strong relationship."

Sheltzer now hopes to launch a prospective analysis, closely studying new cancer patients for years after diagnosis. This could highlight which kinds of copy number changes are associated with which outcomes.

"That would be one of the first steps towards taking what we've learned and translating it into a clinically useful tool that could also provide patients with peace of mind," said Sheltzer.
-end-
About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. Home to eight Nobel Prize winners, the private, not-for-profit Laboratory employs 1,100 people including 600 scientists, students and technicians. The Meetings & Courses Program annually hosts more than 12,000 scientists. The Laboratory's education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a graduate school and the DNA Learning Center with programs for middle and high school students and teachers. For more information, visit http://www.cshl.edu

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.