Why Do Some Survive Cancer and Others Don’t?

Sunday, June 2, is National Cancer Survivors Day—a time when millions celebrate life.

The celebration raises the question, “Why isn’t everyone who is diagnosed with cancer a survivor?” For example, why do more than 70 percent of women diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer succumb to the disease within 5 years, while less than 30 percent with the same diagnosis survive?  By all known medical tests and measurements, all the patients received the same treatment. Yet the outcome was very different that smaller group of patients.

To begin to answer some of these questions, Iuliana Shapira, MD, an oncologist at the Monter Cancer Center, and I set up the Breast and Ovarian Tissue Bank to collect and store blood and/or tissue from breast and/or ovarian cancer patients. We study these samples to find insight into how to detect the disease earlier and to predict the growth or relapse of cancer and how a patient will respond to a treatment.

Our first question was, “What is difference between women who survive ovarian cancer and women who don’t?”  We first examined blood samples from women who were being evaluated for ovarian cancer and found that genes in women diagnosed with a benign mass differed from genes in women with ovarian cancer.  Closer analysis revealed that these genes could even distinguish which women would survive ovarian cancer and which women wouldn’t.  We are currently confirming these results and investigating more details in these genes.

We can increase the number of people who celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day by finding ways for healthcare providers to improve treatments and outcomes for patients with breast and/or ovarian cancer. Encouraged by the promising results from our ovarian cancer study, we plan to expand our collection of samples to include other types of cancer with the hope that one day everyone diagnosed with cancer will celebrate life.

The Breast and Ovarian Tissue Bank has more than 400 participants enrolled in so far. To find out about enrolling, call 516-562-1176.

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