Tumour markers


Close-up of blood in bottles over paper with text

Tumour markers play a vital role in the diagnosis, prognosis, and monitoring of cancer. These substances, often proteins, are produced by cancer cells or by the body in response to cancer. By detecting their presence or levels in blood, urine, or tissue samples, medical professionals gain valuable insights into various cancers’ presence, progression, and treatment response. Here, we delve into the significance of tumour markers and highlight some examples widely used in clinical practice.

Importance of Tumour Markers

Tumour markers serve as essential tools in cancer management for several reasons:

  • Early Detection: Elevated levels of certain tumour markers can indicate the presence of cancer even before symptoms manifest, enabling early intervention and improved treatment outcomes.
  • Diagnosis: Tumour markers aid in confirming the diagnosis of specific cancers, guiding healthcare providers in selecting appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment modalities.
  • Prognosis: By assessing the levels of tumour markers, healthcare professionals can predict the likely course of the disease, helping patients and their families prepare emotionally and make informed decisions about their treatment options.
  • Monitoring Treatment Response: Tumour markers are instrumental in evaluating the effectiveness of cancer therapies. Changes in marker levels over time can indicate whether treatment is working or if adjustments are necessary.
  • Detecting Recurrence: Following initial treatment, monitoring tumour marker levels helps detect cancer recurrence at an early stage, facilitating prompt intervention and improving the chances of successful treatment.

Examples of Tumour Markers:

  • Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA):

Associated Cancer: Prostate cancer

Clinical Use: PSA levels are measured for prostate cancer screening, diagnosis, and monitoring treatment response. Elevated PSA levels may also indicate benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostate inflammation.

  • CA-125:

Associated Cancer: Ovarian cancer

Clinical Use: CA-125 is primarily used to monitor ovarian cancer patients during and after treatment. Elevated levels may also occur in other conditions, such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease.

  • CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen):

Associated Cancers: Colorectal cancer, among others.

Clinical Use: CEA levels help in monitoring colorectal cancer treatment response and detecting disease recurrence. Elevated CEA levels may also be observed in other cancers, such as lung cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

  • AFP (Alpha-Fetoprotein):

Associated Cancer: Hepatocellular carcinoma (Liver cancer).

Clinical Use: AFP levels are primarily used for diagnosing and monitoring hepatocellular carcinoma. Elevated AFP levels may also be seen in other liver diseases and certain germ cell tumours.

CA 19-9:

Associated Cancer: Pancreatic cancer

Clinical Use: CA 19-9 is used for diagnosing and monitoring pancreatic cancer. Elevated levels may also occur in other gastrointestinal cancers and benign conditions, such as pancreatitis.

While tumour markers provide valuable information, it’s crucial to interpret results in the context of clinical findings and other diagnostic tests. Elevated levels of tumour markers can sometimes be seen in non-cancerous conditions and normal levels do not necessarily rule out the presence of cancer.