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A recent study involving Brigham Young University researchers could be a first step toward predicting better treatment methods for prostate cancer patients.
Doctors currently base their treatment of this cancer on experience or statistics, said Michael Scott, a BYU civil and environmental engineering professor, but that method can lead to over- or undertreating the disease.
So, BYU researchers teamed up with others from the University of Coruna, University of Texas-Austin and Carnegie Mellon University to study whether the use of computer models could accurately predict prostate cancer growth, a method known as predictive medicine.
Their study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that it could.
For men in the United States, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer, aside from skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The growth of prostate cancer is slow, the CDC states, and most men diagnosed with it are older than 65.
Researchers took CT scans of prostate cancer patients and put them into a mathematical model in the hopes of predicting the cancer's growth, said Scott, a study coauthor. They then compared the model's results to each patient's actual tumor growth, he added.
"For the first time, we were able to predict what we've seen in clinical practice," Scott said. "What this is doing is giving [doctors] a more precise means of prescribing treatment, [and] giving them a rational basis for why they believe certain things are going to happen."
Though a lot more research is needed, Scott said these results mean doctors might eventually be able to determine better treatment methods such as chemotherapy and radiation by inputting it into a computer model and tracking how it would impact the tumor.
It also could lead to earlier diagnoses and less invasive testing of prostate tumors, Scott said.
Prostate cancer is tricky because diagnosis currently requires an invasive biopsy, and there may not be symptoms until the disease is in the late stages, when it has invaded other parts of the body, according to BYU's website.
Scott said it likely will be 10 to 20 years before this type of modeling is used in medical practices, but this study is a first step toward that.