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Exploring Tumor Markers: Types, Tests, and Uses



Did you know that our body generates certain biomarkers that can signal abnormal cellular activity and cancer? These are known as tumor markers and tumor marker blood tests help identify if cancer is present in your body or not. As you read this article, you will discover the common tumor markers list, and how these biomarkers aid in the early identification of cancer, assess treatment effectiveness, and guide ongoing care.

What are tumor markers?

Tumor markers are specific proteins produced by cancer cells or your body, usually in response to cancer. These are detected usually through tumor marker blood tests or other testing methods. Tumor markers may be present in various parts of the body of people diagnosed with cancer.

What do tumor markers tell you?

Tumor markers offer insights into various aspects of cancer, revealing the presence, type, and progression of the disease. High levels of tumor markers provide valuable diagnostic clues. However, tumor markers alone are not conclusive proof of cancer and may be high for reasons unrelated to malignancy.

Where are tumor markers typically found?

Tumor markers can be found in various bodily fluids, but blood tests are the most important one. Blood tests measure the concentration of compounds that cancer cells release into your bloodstream or that your body produces in response to cancer. Apart from blood, tumor markers may also be detected in urine, cerebrospinal fluid, and other tissues or fluids. The choice of the testing method depends on the type of cancer suspected and the specific types of tumor markers being analysed.

Do tumor markers detect all cancers?

No, tumor markers do not detect all cancers. Different cancers produce distinct types of tumor markers, and not all cancers release markers at detectable levels.

What are the commonly used cancer tumor markers?

Several tumor markers are used in the diagnosis of various cancers. Given below is a common tumor markers list:

  • Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA): High levels of PSA in your blood may suggest prostate cancer. However, PSA levels can also be elevated due to benign prostatic conditions.
  • CA-125: This marker is associated with ovarian cancer. Elevated CA-125 levels may be observed in women with ovarian cancer, but they can also be increased in non-cancerous conditions.
  • CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen): High CEA levels are associated with colorectal cancer. CEA testing is also used for other gastrointestinal cancers.
  • AFP (Alpha-Fetoprotein): AFP is a marker for liver cancer and certain types of germ cell tumors. Elevated levels may indicate the presence of these cancers.
  • CA 19-9: High levels of CA 19-9 are associated with pancreatic, colorectal, and other gastrointestinal cancers. It is not specific to any one type of cancer.
  • HER2/neu: This marker is associated with breast cancer. Testing for HER2/neu status helps in determining the appropriate treatment approach.
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2: These genetic markers are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Testing for these mutations is essential for assessing hereditary cancer risk.
  • EGFR (Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor): Mutations in the EGFR gene are found in certain types of lung cancer.
  • CA 15-3 and CA 27-29: These markers are associated with breast cancer and are used for monitoring treatment response and detecting recurrence.
  • Ki-67: Ki-67 is a marker of cellular proliferation and is used to assess the aggressiveness of tumors, particularly in breast cancer.

How does a tumor marker test work?

A tumor marker test typically involves analysing a sample of your blood, tissue(biopsy), or other bodily fluids like saliva, and urine(urinalysis) to measure the levels of specific proteins, antigens, or genetic markers associated with cancer.

Why are tumor marker tests used?

Tumor marker tests are utilised for several purposes in cancer diagnosis and management. Apart from helping in early cancer detection by identifying tumor markers, these tests also aid in monitoring the effectiveness of cancer treatment and detecting cancer recurrence. Tumor markers also play a role in determining prognosis and guiding personalised treatment plans. While not standalone diagnostic tools, they provide valuable information when interpreted alongside clinical and imaging data.

What do I need to know about tumor marker test results?

Interpreting tumor marker test results requires you to consider several factors such as:

  • Normal range of tumor markers test
  • Specificity and sensitivity of the test
  • Treatment response
  • False positives and negatives
  • Evaluation of baseline tumor marker levels

What’s the normal range for cancer markers?

The normal range for cancer markers varies. Each marker has a specific range. Consult with your healthcare provider for clear interpretation and to understand the actual context of the normal range for cancer markers.

How do age and gender affect tumor marker levels?

The likelihood of developing cancer rises with age and is more prevalent in men than in women.

What does it mean when your tumor markers are high?

High tumor marker levels may be suggestive of the presence of cancer or metastasis. However, elevated markers are not conclusive proof of cancer and may result from non-cancerous factors. Further diagnostic tests are essential to determine the underlying cause.

What does it mean when tumor markers go down?

A decrease in tumor marker levels often suggests a positive response to treatment. It may indicate that your cancer is responding well to therapy or that there is a reduction in the overall cancer burden. However, a decline in tumor markers doesn't guarantee a complete cure.

What are the limitations of tumor marker tests?

Tumor marker tests have several limitations:

  • Elevated markers can result from non-cancerous conditions, leading to false positives. Whereas some cancers may not produce detectable markers, resulting in false negatives.
  • Not all cancers produce specific markers, limiting applicability.
  • Certain medications can impact marker levels, affecting accuracy.
  • Tumor markers alone cannot diagnose cancer definitively.

Can non-cancerous conditions affect tumor marker levels?

Yes, several non-cancerous conditions can impact tumor marker levels:

  • Hepatitis or cirrhosis
  • Arthritis
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Pancreatitis
  • Anaemia

Can stress cause tumor markers to rise?

Numerous clinical and epidemiological investigations have recognised psychosocial elements such as stress and persistent depression as factors that cause tumor markers to rise and increase the risk of cancer progression.


In conclusion, tumor marker tests are valuable tools for cancer diagnosis and management, but their interpretation requires careful consideration of various factors. Ongoing research continues to enhance their efficacy. Contact us at Metropolis Healthcare if you want to get your tumor marker blood tests done. We also provide test at-home services, expert technicians will collect your sample from home and we ensure that the accurate results are shared with you at earliest. Book your test today!

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