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August 17, 2021


A tumor marker is anything present in or produced by cancer cells or other cells of the body in response to cancer or certain benign (noncancerous) conditions that provides information about a cancer, such as how aggressive it is, whether it can be treated with a targeted therapy, or whether it is responding to treatment.
Tumor markers have traditionally been proteins or other substances that are made by both normal and cancer cells but at higher amounts by cancer cells. These can be found in the blood, urine, stool, tumors, or other tissues or bodily fluids of some patients with cancer. Increasingly, however, genomic markers such as tumor gene mutations, patterns of tumor gene expression, and nongenetic changes in tumor DNA, are being used as tumor markers.

Many different tumor markers have been characterized and are in clinical use. Some are associated with only one type of cancer, whereas others are associated with multiple different cancer types. No “universal” tumor marker has been found that can reveal the presence of any type of cancer.

This Blood Test Can Detect Cancer When You Are apparently Healthy

Cancer is a grave threat to human life and shakes the confidence of the most courageous of people. It is quite devastating in itself, but often what makes the life of people stricken with cancer more distressing is the treatment part. Side effects and length of treatment of cancer affect quality of life. Now, if cancer is detected early, there is a significantly higher chance of it being cured or at least the life of the patient prolonged. Recent advances in molecular genetic testing are opening up new opportunities to detect cancer early.

The use of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in blood as a novel diagnostic test for the screening and surveillance of cancer is a rapidly growing area of interest, with detection of ctDNA acting as a potential surrogate for tissue biopsy. Thanks to such a doctor can identify if there is a cancerlurkingin your body at a stage when no symptoms of it are there. Such a test can also increase effectiveness of future treatment as the genetic make up of ctDNA can guide selection of correct medicine for the cancer type. And this can be done without doing an invasive test like tissue biopsy.

Tumor tissue markers are found in the actual tumors themselves, typically in a sample of the tumor that is removed during a biopsy. Tumor tissue markers are used to:

  • diagnose, stage, and/or classify cancer
  • estimate prognosis
  • select an appropriate treatment (eg, treatment with a targeted therapy).

In some types of cancer, the level of a tumor marker reflects the stage (extent) of the disease and/or the patient’s prognosis (likely outcome or course of disease). An example is alpha-fetoprotein, which is measured in blood to assess stage, estimate prognosis, and follow response to treatment of germ cell tumors. More information about cancer staging is available on the Staging page.

Tumor markers may be measured before treatment to help doctors plan the appropriate therapy. For example, some tests, called companion diagnostics, which have been developed alongside their respective targeted therapy drug, are used to determine whether treatment with a particular targeted therapy is appropriate. Some of these tests measure how much of the tumor marker is present; others detect the presence of a specific marker, such as a gene mutation.
Some tumor tissue markers are targets for specific targeted therapies. However, not all targets of targeted therapies are tumor markers that are tested in patients. More information about therapies that are designed to interfere with specific targets involved in cancer cell growth and survival is available in the Targeted Cancer Therapies fact sheet.

There are some important tumor markers for testicular cancer:

  • Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP).
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).
  • Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
  • PSA
  • CA 19.9
  • CA 125
  • CA 15.3
  • CA

Treatment to keep cancer from returning

Understand your options before you decide whether adjuvant therapy is for you. Balance the side effects with the benefits of treatment when making your decision.

Adjuvant therapy is often used after primary treatments, such as surgery, to lessen the chance of your cancer coming back. Even if your surgery was successful at removing all visible cancer, microscopic bits of cancer sometimes remain and are undetectable with current methods.

Adjuvant therapy is often used after primary treatments, such as surgery, to lessen the chance of your cancer coming back. Even if your surgery was successful at removing all visible cancer, microscopic bits of cancer sometimes remain and are undetectable with current methods.

Adjuvant or neoadjuvant therapy can cause significant side effects, and these treatments don’t benefit everyone.

Types of cancer treatment that are used as adjuvant therapy include:

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
  • Hormone therapy. For cancers sensitive to hormones, certain treatments can stop hormone production in your body or block the effect of hormones.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. It can be given internally or externally.
  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy works with your body’s immune system to fight off any remaining cancer cells by stimulating your body’s own defenses or supplementing them.
  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is designed to alter specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. For example, a targeted therapy is available to block the action of a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) in women with breast cancer.

How effective is adjuvant therapy?
Because none of these treatments is completely harmless, it's important to determine the risks of adjuvant therapy versus the benefits. The following factors can help you and your doctor determine whether adjuvant therapy is appropriate for you and, if so, which type:

  • Type of cancer. Treating certain types of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer, with adjuvant therapy can be very beneficial. For some other types of cancer, there might not be a benefit.
  • Stage of cancer. A cancer's stage refers to the extent of the cancer. If the cancer is at a very early stage — before it has had time to spread — then the chance of cancer recurring after surgery may be very small. Adjuvant therapy may offer little benefit in this case. But if a cancer is at a later stage or it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, adjuvant therapy may be more beneficial.

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