Tumor Markers: Unraveling secrets to Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment.


What are Tumor Markers?

Cancer is a complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. One tool that doctors use to help diagnose and monitor cancer is tumor markers. 

Tumor markers are substances found in higher-than-normal levels in the blood, urine, or tissues of some people with certain cancers. These substances, which are also called biomarkers, can be made by the tumor or by healthy cells in response to the tumor.

Tumor marker tests check to see if a person has these substances in their body and in what amounts. Tumor markers are often proteins, and glycoproteins but certain genetic changes are now being used as tumor markers.

What is the utility of tumor markers?

Tumor markers are not used to diagnose cancer on their own, but they can be used in combination with other tests to help diagnose and monitor cancer. Doctors may recommend tumor marker testing during the various stages of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care[1]. Understanding how tumor markers can affect treatment choices can be complicated, but asking for examples can help.

 For instance, early-stage breast cancer has specific tumour markers that can help doctors tailor an individual’s treatment. If a person is diagnosed with this disease, the doctor may test for tumour markers known as estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) [1].

Classification of Tumor Markers

There are many ways to classify tumour Markers. In this post, we will classify them according to their distinct functions in cancer management: These include:- 

Types of Tumor Markers

  1. Screening
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Therapeutic 
  4. Prognosis
  5. Monitoring therapy
  6. Monitor disease recurrence

As research continues, it is likely that new tumor markers will be identified, providing even more insights into the complex world of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Tumor markers can be classified according to their function in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The clinical application of tumor markers can be broadly classified into six groups

1. Screening and early detection

Tumor markers can be used to screen for cancer in people who are at high risk for the disease. For example, women who have a family history of breast cancer may be screened for the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

2. Diagnostic confirmation

Tumor markers can be used to help diagnose cancer. For example, elevated levels of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood can be a sign of prostate cancer.

3. Therapeutic Utility 

Tumor markers can be used to guide treatment decisions. For example, the presence of the estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) in breast cancer cells can help determine whether hormone therapy is an appropriate treatment option.

4. Prognosis

Tumor markers can be used to estimate a patient’s prognosis or the likely course of the disease. For example, elevated levels of the tumor marker CA 125 in the blood of a woman with ovarian cancer can be a sign of a poor prognosis.

5. Monitoring therapy

Tumor markers can be used to monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment. For example, a decrease in the level of the tumour marker CA 15-3 in the blood of a woman with breast cancer can be a sign that her treatment is working.

7. Monitor disease recurrence: 

Tumor markers can be used to monitor for cancer recurrence after treatment. For example, rising levels of the tumour marker CEA in the blood of a person with colorectal cancer can be a sign that cancer has returned.

Conclusion: Tumor Markers Promising Future 

Tumor Markers are one of the tools increasingly being used to manage the increasing cancer menace in the country. Researchers are working to discover newer and more specific tumour markers to aid in screening, diagnosis and informing treatment decisions


  • Joseph Mwaura,MD

    Medical doctor with over 15 years expreience across clinical, public health and health enterprenuership. Chief Medical Officer and Editor at labtestzote.com Currently focused on the use of AI and emerging health tech to tackle urgent health issues in our region.

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