Researchers have identified gene expression patterns and DNA changes that can also be used as tumor markers if present in tumor biopsies.
Cancer creates a need for surgery for many patients and in almost every physiologic system. Only the heart and the retina seem to thwart cancerous growths. More than 20 different tumor markers — most of them proteins produced in excess by a malignant neoplasm — are in clinical use. Though many use blood or urine samples, researchers recently identified gene expression patterns and DNA changes that can also be used as tumor markers if present in tumor biopsies.
Although some tumor markers indicate a specific cancer, others are common to multiple cancers and indicate that more testing is needed. Tumor markers are limited in other ways, as benign conditions can elevate tumor markers, and tumor markers are not uniformly elevated in all associated cancer patients. Thus, their specificity is inexact.
The media often heralds tumor markers as remarkable achievements — which they are — but the attention often motivates patients to ask for lab work to screen for cancer-using markers. However, studies show that tumor markers have the most clinical utility in monitoring treatment and detecting disease recurrence.
Surgeons may be interested in these three items recently published on the topic: