A new study published this week by researchers at Brigham Young University shows how computer models can be used to predict cancer growth, which could lead to less invasive testing for patients.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is focused on prostate cancer and it fits into an emerging field of research being called predictive medicine.
Michael Scott is one of the study's authors.
"I guess you could call it mathematical oncology," he explained.
Scott was referring to the way he and his collaborators' research combines his background in civil and environmental engineering with medicine, in order to predict the growth of prostate cancer in patients.
"You’re using, basically tools from engineering and mathematics to give you an ability to kind of, not necessarily see into the future, but at least predict the future behavior of some physical phenomena," Scott said.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer to afflict men. The researchers hope their study could change how the disease is monitored in patients.
Right now, when a man is diagnosed, doctors follow the evolution of the disease with biopsies of the patients’ prostate, to tell how fast the cancer is growing.
"So one of the big targets of course is trying to minimize the number of invasive procedures a patient would have to undergo," Scott said.
In the case of Scott’s work computer models could help predict the growth of an individual’s cancer instead.
Scott says this is just the first step and over time their model will need to be validated and improved. But it could provide an important alternative for managing the disease.