Definition of Cancer Biomarker


Definition of Cancer Biomarker

A cancer biomarker refers to a substance or process that is indicative of the presence of cancer in the body. A biomarker may be a molecule secreted by a tumor or a specific response of the body to the presence of cancer. Genetic, epigenetic, proteomic, glycomic, and imaging biomarkers can be used for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and epidemiology. Ideally, such biomarkers can be assayed in non-invasively collected biofluids like blood or serum.

While numerous challenges exist in translating biomarker research into the clinical space; a number of gene and protein based biomarkers have already been used at some point in patient care; including, AFP (Liver Cancer), BCR-ABL (Chronic Myeloid Leukemia), BRCA1 / BRCA2 (Breast/Ovarian Cancer), BRAF V600E (Melanoma/Colorectal Cancer), CA-125 (Ovarian Cancer), CA19.9 (Pancreatic Cancer), CEA (Colorectal Cancer), EGFR (Non-small-cell lung carcinoma), HER-2 (Breast Cancer), KIT (Gastrointestinal stromal tumor), PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) (Prostate Cancer), S100 (Melanoma), and many others. Mutant Proteins themselves detected by Selected Reaction Monitoring (SRM) have been reported to be the most specific biomarkers for cancers because they can only come from an existing tumor.

Organizations and publications vary in their definition of biomarker. In many areas of medicine, biomarkers are limited to proteins identifiable or measurable in the blood or urine. However, the term is often used to cover any molecular, biochemical, physiological, or anatomical property that can be quantified or measured.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), in particular, defines biomarker as a: “A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition. Also called molecular marker and signature molecule."  In cancer research and medicine, biomarkers are used in three primary ways:

1.            To help diagnose conditions, as in the case of identifying early stage cancers (Diagnostic)

2.            To forecast how aggressive a condition is, as in the case of determining a patient's ability to fare in the absence of treatment (Prognostic)

3.            To predict how well a patient will respond to treatment (Predictive)

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