Huge Gains for Cancer Prediction

New Genetic Research Makes Huge Gains for Cancer Prediction

03.27.13 | By Kaelan Hollon

A new cancer study is all over the news today, highlighting a batch of cancer “markers” that can help predict the disease earlier than before. It’s a testament to both how far we’ve come in our research to predict and treat cancer, and further how far we’ve got to go in finding a cure.

Researchers looked at biomarkers of more than 200,000 cancer patients, combining the data to better predict which gene variants can lead to cancer; specifically breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. Those three cancers affect about 2.5 million people worldwide, and they’re all driven by sex hormones.

The study was a massive undertaking by a collaboration of 160 different research institutions, called the Collaborative Oncological Gene-environment Study (COGS), resulting in doubling the variants previously known to increase cancer risk. Now 74 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) linked to cancer risk have been decoded and are being studied.  Nature Magazine has handily cataloged the COGS papers here, alongside helpful editorial content highlighting the main themes of research.

The news, as tends to happen, isn’t an immediate fix-all for current cancer patients, and it may take a while to understand what’s possible as a result of the study. There’s still an enormous amount of unknowns even with the discovery of 74 new genetic red flags, and certain cancers (ovarian, namely), present enormous hurdles to research.  Researchers also cautioned that genetic markers alone won’t be a sole predictor of cancer risk and prevention.  But it’s a step forward, and patients may one day be able to take a genetic test that can more accurately predict their cancer risk.

What else can patients look forward to? In addition to the nearly 1,000 medicines currently in development to treat cancer, in a few years we may have highly accurate tests based on these genetic biomarkers that can predict cancer risk.  If a patient has a high genetic risk, which can be determined early in life, they may opt to get screened much earlier. We might be able to fine-tune testing for people with these malignancies and personalize their treatment plan much earlier than ever before.  Incremental advances in detection, treatment and innovation, like today’s COGs discovery of genetic biomarkers, can eventually save lives.

Curious to learn more about incremental innovation and what’s it’s doing for cancer patients? Check out this Boston Healthcare Associates paper from last year, “Recognizing Value in Oncology Innovation”.

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