OHSU Cancer Institute Researchers Create New Tool To Predicting Survival For Head, Neck Cancer Patients

02/26/11  Portland, Ore.

Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute researchers have developed a Web-based software program that can help make more accurate predictions of long-term survival for head and neck cancer patients better predict their survivability.

“This new tool can help us make personalized predictions of conditional survival for an individual patient depending on his or her specific situation depending on their specific situation,” said  Samuel J. Wang, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator, Holman Pathway Resident in the Department of Radiation Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

Conditional survival is a statistical system different way of looking at survival that takes into account the age when the patient was diagnosed with cancer and the time elapsed since the patient was diagnosis and treated for cancer. The new Web-browser software tool, called the based on a statistical system called a regression model, can calculate a personalized estimate of a patient's conditional survival based on the patient's age, gender, race and tumor site, stage the tumor aggressiveness.

The study was recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists.

In a previous study, researchers, including Wang, demonstrated the concept of conditional survival for head and neck cancer. They showed that as patients survive longer periods of time after diagnosis, the better their prognosis. 

“This is the first time we have the ability to make a customized prediction of conditional survival probability for an individual head and neck cancer survivor, based on his or her specific characteristics,” said Wang.

The long-term goal is to build similar software tools for other cancers, Wang explained, so that physicians will be able to give cancer patients more individualized prognosis and treatment recommendations.

“Now that cancer researchers are beginning to collect more specific information about patients’ tumors, such as tumor markers and genetic information, there is increasing interest in the development of these types of tools for making more specific predictions of a patient's prognosis,” Wang said.

Other researchers contributing to this study are: Clifton David Fuller, M.D., resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology and a trainee in Human Imaging/Radiobiology, Division of Radiological Sciences, University  of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Dean Sittig, Ph.D., director, Applied Research in Medical Informatics Northwest Permanente; John Holland, M.D., associate professor, OHSU School of Medicine, member of the OHSU Cancer Institute and   Charles R. Thomas Jr., M.D., chairman, Department of Radiation Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and member, OHSU Cancer Institute.

Wang is also a post-doctoral fellow in the Department Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology, OHSU School of Medicine. The research was funded by a National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine post-doctoral fellowship in biomedical informatics.

The OHSU Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 120 clinical researchers, basic scientists and population scientists who work together to translate scientific discoveries into longer and better lives for Oregon's cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists examine cancer cells and normal cells to uncover molecular abnormalities that cause the disease. This basic science informs more than 200 clinical trials conducted at the OHSU Cancer Institute.