Breast cancer

Updated 18 April 2013

Scientists create breast cancer survival predictor

New model shows which gene signatures are strong signs for survival.

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Columbia University scientists have developed a new model to predict breast cancer survival, and they say their work could lead to improved diagnosis and prognosis for all types of cancers.

In earlier work, the researchers identified certain gene signatures that are present in nearly identical form in many cancer types. Using that information, they developed a model that showed that these gene signatures, when properly combined, were strong indicators for breast cancer survival.

The findings appear in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Specific genes found in the tissue in pateints

"These signatures manifest themselves in specific genes that are turned on together in the tissues of some patients in many different cancer types," team leader Dimitris Anastassiou, a professor in electrical engineering and a member of the Columbia Initiative in Systems Biology, said.

"And if these general cancer signatures are useful in breast cancer ... then why not in other types of cancer as well?" he said. "I think that the most significant - and exciting - implication of our work is the hope that these signatures can be used for improved diagnostic, prognostic and, eventually, therapeutic products, applicable to multiple cancers."

There are many biomarker products that look at specific genes in cancer biopsy samples in order to help doctors determine whether a particular treatment will be appropriate for a patient.

"Some of these genes are related to those in our signatures, so it's worth finding out if replacing such genes with our precise 'pan-cancer' signatures will improve the accuracy of these products," Anastassiou said.

The new model developed by the Columbia researchers won the Sage Bionetworks/DREAM Breast Cancer Prognosis Challenge.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer.


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Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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