May 29, 2024
Cancer Biomarkers

Cancer Biomarkers: Understanding Cancer through Biomarker Discovery

What is it?

It can be defined as biological molecules found in blood, urine or body tissues that are indicators of normal or abnormal processes, or of a condition or disease. Biomarkers act as molecular “flags” that alert clinicians of cancer risk, cancer diagnosis or whether certain treatments are working or not. Some common examples of cancer biomarkers include proteins, genes or their mutations.


There are different types of cancer biomarkers based on their functions:

Screening Biomarkers – These biomarkers are used for cancer screening to detect Cancer Biomarkers at an early stage, even before symptoms appear. For example, Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) screening for prostate cancer.

Diagnostic Biomarkers – Used to help doctors confirm if an abnormal finding corresponds to cancer or a benign condition. For example, CA125 biomarker screening for ovarian cancer.

Prognostic Biomarkers – Used to predict the likely progression and outcome of cancer in individual patients. Higher levels often correlate with poorer prognosis. For example, HER2 expression levels in breast cancer patients.

Predictive Biomarkers – Used to predict the likelihood of response or lack of response to a specific treatment. For example, KRAS mutations can predict lack of response to certain colon cancer drugs.

Monitoring/Therapeutic Response Biomarkers – Used to see how well a cancer treatment is working by monitoring biomarker levels before and after treatment begins. Declining levels often indicate treatment effectiveness. For example, monitoring PSA levels during prostate cancer treatment.

The Role of Biomarkers in Cancer Management

Cancer biomarkers play an integral role at different stages of cancer management:

Screening – Biomarkers help in early cancer detection when tumors are small and easier to treat. For example, mammography plus CA15-3 biomarker testing improves breast cancer screening.

Diagnosis – Along with imaging tests, biomarkers help doctors distinguish cancer from other diseases and determine cancer type and origin of metastatic cancers.

Staging – Certain biomarkers help determine how much cancer has spread from the primary site and inform staging which guides treatment plans.

Prognosis – Biomarker levels provide clues about long term outcomes and help predict chances of recurrence post-treatment.

Treatment – Biomarkers guide treatment selection by predicting drug responses. Therapy monitoring biomarkers gauge treatment effectiveness.

Surveillance – Serial biomarker tests during and after treatment help track disease progression or remission and detect recurrence earlier.

Drug Development – Biomarkers being researched serve as targets for new drugs and help select eligible patient populations for clinical trials.

Challenges in Biomarker Discovery and Validation

While biomarkers present invaluable opportunities, their clinical usage also faces challenges:

Specificity and Sensitivity – An ideal biomarker must be accurate in discriminating cancer from non-cancer with very few false positives or negatives. This level of precision is rare.

Reproducibility – Biomarker tests must produce consistent, reproducible results in different labs and assay platforms for successful adoption in clinical practice.

Cut-off Values – Define thresholds or cut-off values above or below which a biomarker indicates disease needs extensive validation studies.

Sample Collection Issues – Pre-analytical variability from biospecimen collection, handling and storage can affect test result reproducibility if not standardized.

Ethical and Legal Issues – Privacy laws and regulations differ worldwide regarding biospecimen banking and data sharing posing challenges.

Cost Factor – High cost of developing and validating biomarkers and associated tests hinders widespread clinical adoption until costs come down.

The Future of Cancer Biomarker Research

Despite current limitations, the field of cancer biomarker research is rapidly evolving offering exciting possibilities:

– Multi-analyte biomarker panels and signatures rather than single biomarkers for more reliable detection and management.

– Liquid biopsies using blood or other body fluids instead of invasive tissue biopsies for real-time “liquid biopsy” cancer monitoring.

– Advances in omics technologies like genomics, proteomics and metabolomics opening new avenues for biomarker discovery.

– Artificial Intelligence powered analysis of large complex biomarker and clinical datasets for deriving novel insights and biomarkers.

– More integration of biomarkers into clinical guidelines and their role expanding into prognosticating outcomes, drug development and precision oncology.

With ongoing efforts, cancer biomarkers hold immense promise to revolutionize cancer management by facilitating early detection, customized treatment selection and real-time tracking of disease status. Combined with other tools, they will transform cancer into a chronic illness manageable long-term.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it