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The use of tumour markers

Tumor markers are efficient biomarkers for the monitoring of malignant diseases. For screening purposes, the current routine markers are only of limited or no use. In this article, the most common tumor markers and their areas of application as well as their limitations are discussed. Finally an outlook on potential future tumor markers is given.

The use of tumour markers

Blood sample for tumour marker tests | © Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock

General biochemical medical background

In general, substances which are increasingly formed in the presence of malignant diseases and can be detected in blood or other body fluids, are referred to as tumour markers. These are primarily proteins, but nucleic acids such as DNA or RNA and even metabolites, also fall under this definition. Strictly speaking however, only the first 3 categories, in other words the biopolymers, are regarded as tumour markers. All of today‘s tumour markers are by no means only produced by malignant, degenerated cells, but can also be detected at low concentrations in the peripheral blood of healthy subjects. In addition, benign disorders of various organs very often lead to transient, more or less pronounced increases in the serum concentration. In terms of practical use, this results in a number of potential problems when interpreting findings, which can only be overcome by a thorough examination of possible concomitant diseases and precise knowledge of the limitations of these markers. As protein markers are determined via sandwich assays, und as international standards are usually non-existent, the respective values are strictly method-dependent as a rule due to the variability of the antibodies used, and the measured values determined from the various test systems are not comparable. Therefore, the same test method must be used for valid progress monitoring. The most important tumour markers and their properties are to be explained in greater detail in the following [1–5]. Figure 1 illustrates these as an overview together with their corresponding organs and carcinomas respectively. Although tumour markers can also be detected in body fluids other than blood, valid reference values as a rule only exist for serum/plasma, and these will be referred to in the following, unless stated otherwise.


Übersetzter Beitrag des Originalartikels aus MTA Dialog 06/2017

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