Breast cancer tumor markers: Recommended by healthcare professionals in 2020
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Breast cancer tumor markers
Tumor markers are substances found within our body that develop when someone is diagnosed with cancer. The cancer cells themselves can also produce such tumor markers when they are proliferating. The levels of tumor markers go way up during the disease and can be measured through a blood test, through urinalysis or by performing a biopsy of the tissue. However, these tumor markers are also produced as a result of other diseases but it is very rare. The types of tumor markers are not just limited to proteins, DNA, RNA as well as other compounds produced by the body are also being studied and tested on.
These breast cancer tumor markers are usually measured to evaluate whether the given treatment for cancer is effective enough or not. Decreased levels of tumor markers confirm the effectiveness of the therapy while increased levels suggest re-evaluation. It’s not just tumor markers which are measured, CT scans, MRI scans, and several other diagnostic tests are performed to correctly identify cancer.
Non-cancerous tumors can also produce the same biomarkers. This is the reason why healthcare professionals go for several diagnostic tests and just not stick with tumor marker levels. A patient can be recommended a breast cancer tumor marker test accompanied by several other blood tests or biopsies to further confirm the result of treatment.
6 Stages of using breast tumor markets
The process by which breast cancer tumor markers are used can be divided into 6 stages for easy understanding.
- Screening: Biomarker screening tests are opted for those patients who already have a strong family history of breast cancer. The results are not specific and further investigation will be done by your doctor.
- Help diagnose: When a female has symptoms of breast cancer, a biomarker test is used as the first test conducted to determine the presence of cancer cells.
- Help stage the disease: The level of breast cancer tumor markers is different at every stage of cancer. In earlier stages, the levels are comparatively low, while in later stages the tumor marker levels skyrocket, confirming cancer spread throughout the body (metastasis).
- Prognosis: Breast cancer tumor marker tests always show their current levels which are helpful for healthcare providers to understand the severity of cancer.
- Treatment selection: Genetically engineered breast cancer tumor markers are used to identify the specific changes occurring during cancer, then targeting to prevent those changes from happening by using therapeutics. Nowadays, numerous healthcare and biotechnology companies are working on developing targeted therapies for patients with cancer. Such companies make their own biologically modified biomarkers that can give doctors an insight into whether the therapy is effective or not.
- Monitor recurrence and recovery: During cancer treatment, doctors use the biomarker tests to keep a tab on their levels. If the levels decrease, it means the therapy is working, if it stays stagnant, it means the treatment does not affect cancer. There are instances when the levels keep on rising, despite a treatment routine. This unexplained increase in biomarker levels during treatment suggests that cancer should be re-evaluated and the current treatment protocol has failed.
Breast cancer tumor markers suggested by healthcare professionals
The American Society of Clinical Oncology has considered 13 biomarkers that can be used to help in screening, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer. Healthcare professionals might suggest some specific breast cancer tumor markers which are associated with the development of breast cancer. The list includes:
- Testing for estrogen or progesterone receptors within the breast tissue. This test is preferred to be conducted on post-menopausal women that go through hormonal changes. Due to this imbalance of hormones, they can be found deposited within the breast tumor, aggravating tumor growth many folds. Progesterone and estrogen hormonal therapy is recommended by your local healthcare provider in such instances.
- Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 is also measured as high levels of this factor are present if an anomaly is detected within the breast tissue. Testing these biomarker levels will help curate specific and effective treatment with drugs that will directly stop HER2 activity.
- CA 125, CA15-3, CA 27.29, and Carcinoembryonic antigen are some other breast cancer tumor markers commonly found in the blood of patients with breast cancer. The carcinoembryonic antigen test is the most commonly selected biomarker for breast cancer identification and management. The constant increase in CEA indicates cancer does not affect the current treatment, a steady increase could point out to cancer recurrence. Elevated CEA in breast cancer indicates that cancer has turned metastatic, meaning cancer has already spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body.
- Breast cancer gene expression test: As we discussed earlier, DNA and RNA can also be used to determine the recurrence of breast cancer in patients who have undergone surgery or are undergoing treatment.
These biomarker tests are recommended by doctors for early detection of breast cancer as well as to measure the treatment progress. If biomarker levels remain high despite treatment, your healthcare professional might go for an alternate treatment plan to produce better results. Sometimes the tests come negative during the disease, showing low levels. Yet, it does not mean your body is cancer-free.
The biomarker tests also act as companion diagnostics. Research and development for novel therapies and biomarkers are well under their way and new methods are experimented on to be used in the healthcare industry. One such diagnostic method is known as a liquid biopsy where tumor material is collected from blood and urine. Recently, the FDA has approved a liquid biopsy test back in 2019, to detect the EGFR gene, a biomarker responsible for telling lung cancer status.
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