Pan-cancer analysis identifies BIRC5 as a prognostic biomarker

BMC Cancer. 2022 Mar 25;22(1):322. doi: 10.1186/s12885-022-09371-0.


Background: The BIRC5 gene encodes for the Survivin protein, which is a member of the inhibitor of apoptosis family. Survivin is found in humans during fetal development, but generally not in adult cells thereafter. Previous studies have shown that Survivin is abundant in most cancer cells, thereby making it a promising target for anti-cancer drugs and a potential prognostic tool.

Methods: To assess genetic alterations and mutations in the BIRC5 gene as well as BIRC5 co-expression with other genes, genomic and transcriptomic data were downloaded via cBioPortal for approximately 9000 samples from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) representing 33 different cancer types and 11 pan-cancer organ systems, and validated using the ICGC Data Portal and COSMIC. TCGA BIRC5 RNA sequencing data from 33 different cancer types and matching normal tissue samples for 16 cancer types were downloaded from Broad GDAC Firehose and validated using breast cancer microarray data from our previous work and data sets from the GENT2 web-based tool. Survival data were analyzed with multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression analysis and validated using KM plotter for breast-, ovarian-, lung- and gastric cancer.

Results: Although genetic alterations in BIRC5 were not common in cancer, BIRC5 expression was significantly higher in cancer tissue compared to normal tissue in the 16 different cancer types. For 14/33 cancer types, higher BIRC5 expression was linked to worse overall survival (OS, 4/14 after adjusting for both age and tumor grade and 10/14 after adjusting only for age). Interestingly, higher BIRC5 expression was associated with better OS in lung squamous cell carcinoma and ovarian serous cystadenocarcinoma. Higher BIRC5 expression was also linked to shorter progressive-free interval (PFI) for 14/33 cancer types (4/14 after adjusting for both age and tumor grade and 10/14 after adjusting only for age). External validation showed that high BIRC5 expression was significantly associated with worse OS for breast-, lung-, and gastric cancer.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that BIRC5 overexpression is associated with the initiation and progression of several cancer types, and thereby a promising prognostic biomarker.

Keywords: Amplification; BIRC5; Biomarker; Cancer; Gene expression; Pancancer; Prognosis; Survivin; TCGA.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Prognosis
  • Survivin* / genetics


  • BIRC5 protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Survivin