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SNAPSHOT: Colorectal Cancer Continuum

For years, scientists have grouped colorectal cancers into distinct subtypes. Sorting cancers into smaller categories can help doctors develop appropriate treatment plans and make prognoses.

Now, Professor Levi Waldron of the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and colleagues have given this idea a makeover. In a study that appears in Genome Biology, the researchers found evidence that colorectal tumors do not biologically fall into separate categories. As an alternative solution, the scientists developed a continuum of these cancers, using two scoring systems.

Genetic test results

By culling pre-existing information on over 3,700 colorectal cancer patients, the researchers created a huge database of gene expression data and analyzed it to test their ideas. The continuous scoring system is consistent with established subtypes in several ways but does a better job of predicting tumor location, stage and grade, and likely timespan for disease-free survival.

“The robustness of our proposed scoring system is clear and hard to dispute,” Waldron said. “I’m looking forward to applying this approach now for other cancer types and in the even larger databases now available, to better understand how different peoples’ tumors are similar and how they are different.”