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YOUR HEALTH: Using math to remove cancerous tumors

PHOENIX, Arizona – Cancer-fighting teams may soon include an oncologist, a surgeon and a mathematician.

Mayo Clinic in Phoenix now has a research lab where the goal is to use math to find the best treatment for brain cancer tumors.

"Tumors, in a way, while they may seem to be unpredictable, actually follow a pattern," explained Dr. Bernard Bendock, chairman of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic-Phoenix.

Dr. Bernard Bendok is leading a research team trying to get ahead of that pattern.   They`re using MRI scans and other pathology to create mathematical equations to tell them what a brain tumor is likely to do.

"We're moving from what I would consider conventional healthcare to individualized health care, where we try to predict and understand how a tumor is behaving, not on average for an average patient, but in a specific patient," explained Dr. Bendok.

Mathematician Kristin Swanson is the newest warrior on the cancer-fighting team.   She looks at data and connects the dots to predict how fast a tumor will grow and where the cells will spread.

"We have all this diverse data across different biological processes within cancers," said Dr. Swanson, co-chair of Mayor Clinic-Phoenix's Neurological Surgery Department.

"How do we stitch this together? And that's where the math comes in. It's kind of the glue."

Dr. Swanson's equations will help guide surgeons and radiologists.   And some day, they may help oncologists pick the best drugs and clinical trials for patients.

Treatment may vary based on a patient`s age, medical history, and overall health.   It can also depend on the location, type and size of the tumor, how it is likely going to spread or recur, and a person`s tolerance for specific medications, therapies or procedures.

Treatment may include:

  • Antiseizure or antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), steroids, or surgery
  • Higher grade tumors that can grow more quickly and may be more difficult to remove require additional treatments beyond surgery, such as radiation, chemotherapy, or a clinical trial when one is available
  • X-rays or other forms of radiation can destroy or delay tumor growth
  • Oral or intravenous chemotherapy may also be necessary

The Mayo research team is trying to find out if the models they are creating will actually be able to predict the spread of a tumor.  They hope to be in clinical trials using the math model to direct surgery within the year.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Moving towards individualized health care and treatment, it can be extremely beneficial in treating a patient with a brain tumor if its future path can be determined or tracked.  Now, doctors are using medical mathematics to predict the behavior of brain tumors, and understand future growth or movements each may take.  By understand how they`re behaving and understand where they`re spreading and how, health care providers can figure out how to tackle them in a more specific manner.  Using math, doctors and researchers can try to individualize treatment for patients; to extend length and improve a patient`s quality of life and maximize tumor removal.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.