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Tumor markers

In oncology the earlier the disease is diagnosed and the sooner treatment is started, the more favorable is the prognosis and better are survival rates. This is why several well known scientific centers and hundreds of modern medical scientists are trying to identify pre-cancer changes in human body and accurate diagnostics tests which can detect cancerous cells and early stages of cancer as soon as possible. This is how several tumor markers (very specific proteins) were discovered. Actually tumor markers are either elements of cancerous transformations, either substances produced by healthy cells which were attacked by cancer.

Tumor markets can be used not only for diagnostic purposes but also for treatment monitoring and for early detection of recurrences. Nowadays oncology clinics can identify about 200 tumor markers – some markets are very specific and could be considered as accurate diagnostic test, but some markets need additional symptoms or additional tests. Only about 20 markers are important for diagnostic purposes. Here are some of them:

AFP (alpha-fetoprotein)

Alpha-fetoprotein is a protein that in humans is encoded by the AFP gene. Increased levels of AFP (higher than 10 IU / ml) could be considered as indicator of pathology and may indicate the presence of following conditions:

  • Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma);
  • Metastatic lesions of the liver tissue (from primary breast cancer);
  • Cancer in respiratory system (bronchus, lungs);
  • Cancer in gastro-enteral system (rectum, sigmoid);
  • Neoplastic processes in the ovaries in women and testes in men.

AFP test sometimes can be used during chronic liver diseases such as cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C as these conditions have increased lifetime risks of developing liver cancer.
AFP test can be useful during treatment monitoring and when someone is being monitored for cancer recurrence.
Actually the AFP is the fetal protein that indicates the status of the fetus during pregnancy and it is also the tumor marker for adults.

CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen)

CEA is a non-specific tumor marker. It is a type of glycoprotein produced by cells of the gastrointestinal tract during embryonic development. It is produced in very small amounts after birth. The level of CEA in the bloodstream is thus relatively low unless appearance of certain diseases including few types of cancer. Sometimes levels of CEA could be increased in smokers.
Increased levels of CEA (higher than 20 ng / ml) could be considered as indicator of pathology and may indicate the presence of following cancers:

  • Gastric or colorectal cancer;
  • Breast cancer;
  • Neoplastic processes in the ovaries in women and testes in men;
  • Thyroid cancer;
  • Metastatic processes in bones and liver.

If CEA concentration increase up to 10 ng / ml, the client could have problems in liver (hepatitis, cirrhosis), in intestine (polyps), in pancreas, in lings (tuberculosis), Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis.

CA-125 (Cancer Antigen 125)

CA-125 is a protein that in humans is encoded by the MUC16 gene. It is a well known ovarian cancer marker. Increased levels of CA-125 (more than 35 U / ml) could be considered as ovarian cancer indication in 90% cases.
Increased concentration of CA-125 (more than 30 U / ml) could be discovered in following cases:

Tumor markers

Tumor markers

  • Ovarian cancer,
  • Cancer in Fallopian tubes (rare),
  • Endometrial cancer,
  • Cervical cancer,
  • Breast cancer,
  • Cancer in lungs,
  • Gastric cancer or esophageal cancer,
  • Colorectal cancer,
  • Pancreatic cancer,
  • Cancer in liver,
  • Lymphoma.

Certain levels of CA-125 could be discovered during some non-cancerous conditions such as endometriosis, menstruation, pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory diseases and hepatitis.

CA 15-3 (Cancer Antigen 15-3)

CA15-3 is a protein – it is found on the surface of many types of cancer cells and shed into the blood stream. CA15-3 is a tumor marker used to monitor certain types of cancer (especially breast cancer). Increased levels of CA15-3 were noted in 80% of metastatic breast cancer cases.
In most cases tumor marker CA15-3 is used to monitor advanced (metastatic) cancer. Elevated CA15-3, in conjunction with alkaline phosphatase (ALP), was found in cases of early stages of breast cancer recurrence.

Normal levels of tumor marker CA15-3 – 9,2-38 U / l

Increased levels of CA15-3 could be discovered in following cases:

  • Breast carcinoma;
  • Bronchial carcinoma;
  • Gastric cancer or colorectal cancer;
  • Female metastatic cancer.

Sometimes increased levels of CA 15-3 can be observed in following non-cancerous conditions such as benign tumors, breast inflammations, liver cirrhosis, late pregnancy and certain autoimmune processes.

CA 19-9 (Cancer Antigen 19-9)

CA 19-9 is known as tumor marker for gastrointestinal system and pancreas (82% accuracy).

According to medical laboratories, normal levels of CA 19-9 are 0-37 U / ml.

Increased levels of CA 19-9 occur in the following cases:

  • Gastric cancer or colorectal cancer;
  • Cancer in liver, gallbladder and liver ducts;
  • Breast cancer;
  • Cancer of female reproductive organs;
  • Bladder cancer.

During some non-cancerous conditions this marker also can be increased – hepatitis, cirrhosis, cholecystitis, cholangitis, cholelithiasis, cystic fibrosis.

CA 72-4 (Cancer Antigen 72-4)

The carbohydrate antigen 72-4 is the most specific marker for gastric cancer. It is less informative in diagnosis of cancer in lungs and ovaries.

Normal levels of CA 72-4 are up to 6.9 U / ml

Increased levels of CA 72-4 can be noted during following cancers:

  • Stomach cancer;
  • Ovarian cancer;
  • Uterine cancer;
  • Breast cancer;
  • Pancreatic cancer.

Elevated levels of CA 72-4 can be noted during pelvic inflammatory diseases, ovarian benign tumors, hepatitis, cirrhosis and certain autoimmune processes.


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