Science can predict cancer survival rate

By Shayna Brouker • Published: July 5th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When someone gets cancer, the first questions are usually, “How bad is it?” and “What are my chances of beating it?” Doctors can predict a percentage based on your diagnosis, but what if you could find out the solid science-based calculation of your chances of survival? Well, a new test developed by scientists can do just that — and it might just lead to improved prognoses, too.

Researchers from Columbia University found that certain gene signatures present themselves in several types of cancer. In a new study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, they also reported that when correctly combined, these gene signatures strongly indicated chances of surviving breast cancer. The hope is that these gene signatures can lead to prognoses, and eventually therapies for not just breast cancer, but all kinds of cancer.

Nearly 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. The earlier it’s found, the easier it is to treat. One hundred percent of women diagnosed with stage one breast cancer live at least five years, according to the American Cancer Society — and many remain cancer-free once they beat it. But by stage four, the five-year survival rate drops to 20 percent. That’s why getting regular mammograms starting at age 40 for early detection is so important. They can detect tumors before they are big enough to feel.

A breast biopsy is the only way to determine whether a tumor is cancerous or not. About two-thirds of all breast cancers are hormone-sensitive, meaning they are fed by estrogen or progesterone. Certain medications can hinder the hormones from encouraging further cancer growth.

Depending on the type of breast cancer, treatment can include surgery, radiation, hormone therapy and chemotherapy. The Columbia research study may add more to this arsenal in the future.