Database to track cancer in families

By Jeremy Thompson, Staff Writer

Researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Intermountain Healthcare have joined forces to form a new database that will allow them to better understand how cancer is passed within families.

“This partnership is truly one of a kind,” said Randall Burt, a professor of medicine and senior director of prevention outreach at the institute. “This database is capable of linking entire families in a way that was never before possible. This is the most advanced system of its kind in the entire world.”

Burt explained that the database is unique because it is able to link cancer diagnosis with family relationships8212;something that was not possible previously. This was done by combining the Utah Population Database, a research resource at the U, with medical records from the institute. The combination allows researchers to understand why certain families are more prone to developing certain types of cancers.

“This database provides a critical link for patients,” said Cory Jones, director of the oncology clinical program for IHC. “It allows us to improve care by understanding how family lineage contributes to cancer development.”

The program makes 3.4 million records available to researchers and links almost 76 percent of IHC patients. Researchers hope that such large amounts of information will lead to better clinical practice standards and more successful patient outcomes.

The database took more than two years to develop and required input from a variety of sources. The Utah Department of Health, the Utah Cancer Registry and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all provided information that is utilized by the program.

The relationship between the institute and IHC is unique because the two groups still compete to assist in treatment with the same individuals. Despite this competition, the opportunity to expand resources and provide for better patient care created the opportunity for the two groups to work together in a unique way.

“Although we are not business partners, we can still help each other out in this instance,” Jones said. “By combining resources and information, we can take better care of the patient, from the time they are admitted until the time their treatment is over.”

The most difficult part of the development of the database was ensuring complete privacy for the records that were used, Burt said. The software was developed in such a way that all records were kept confidential according to state and federal regulations.

“This cooperative effort is monumental,” Jones said. “This effort will help countless numbers of families and individuals. This database, when utilized correctly, can improve the future for cancer patients.”

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