A team of researchers from across the country are using a mathematical model, similar to the one Google uses to predict what websites people are likely to visit, to try and track how lung cancer spreads in the human body. The researchers say the algorithm is similar to Google PageRank and to the Viterbi Algorithm for digital communication, and can analyze the spread patterns of lung cancer.
"This research demonstrates how similar the Internet is to a living organism," Paul Newton, Ph.D., University of Southern California (USC) engineering professor, the lead and corresponding author of the study, said in a statement. "The same types of tools that help us understand the spread of information through the web can help us understand the spread of cancer through the human body."
Using these equations, which are known as the Markov chain model, the researchers found that metastatic lung cancer spreads in multiple directions from the primary tumor site. The main spreaders, according to the researchers, are the adrenal gland and kidney. The main sponges are the regional lymph nodes, liver and bone.
The researchers applied the mathematical algorithms by studying autopsy reports of 163 lung cancer patients in the New England area, from 1914 to 1943. They used this data because it predates the use of radiation and chemotherapy. This allows the researchers a clearer view of how cancer progresses if left untreated.
The findings, which will be published in the journal Cancer Research, could provide physicians an area to target treatment, which could curtain the disease’s spread. However, the researchers say further study is needed to determine how effective targeted treatment could be.