By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy


Your doctor may order blood tests for breast cancer tumor markers in order to detect cancer activity in your body. Certain proteins and other circulating tumor cells make up two types of markers that can be measured during these tests. A cancer tumor will often produce a specific protein in your bloodstream that serves as a marker for the cancer. Both protein markers and circulating tumor cell markers can be measured with simple blood or urine tests.

When Will Your Doctor Order a Marker Test?

Many doctors use marker test results to show indication of breast cancer progression or even breast cancer recurrence. They can use this information to help make a decision about if or when to change cancer treatment therapies if the current treatment does not appear to be working. They may also use the markers to start treatment again if there is a recurrence of a cancer you’ve already had.

Can Markers be Used for Early Detection?

Typically, breast cancer tumor markers are not used to diagnose cancer. For most people, cancer can only be diagnosed through a biopsy. However, tumor markers can aid in determining if cancer could be a possibility. They can also help in a situation where a cancer is already widespread. When it’s found, tumor markers can help figure out where it started.

DID YOU KNOW?

Although tumor markers are not able to screen for all types of cancer, they can screen for certain types of breast or prostate cancer.

How Often are Tumor Markers Checked?

Tumor markers can be checked on a regular basis, or they may be checked only periodically. Whether or not the tumor markers are checked regularly really depends on the type of cancer you may have. Tumor markers are often checked at diagnosis, as well as before, during, and after treatment. They will then be checked regularly for many years after to see if the cancer has come back. During your treatment, changes in tumor marker levels can be an indication of whether or not the treatment is working.

What Other Factors do Tumor Markers Measure?

One of the most important reasons your doctor may order tumor markers is to monitor current cancer treatment. This is especially true if you have advanced cancer. A tumor marker may be used to measure the growth or decline of your cancer instead of doing other tests like x-rays, CT scans, or bone scans.

Early detection with breast cancer is key. It’s very important to schedule annual mammograms, especially if you’re over the age of 40. Breast cancer tumor markers can be used to make sure that your treatment is going well and help guide the type of treatment you receive. These markers can identify the source of your cancer and hopefully help to guide your recovery.

If you’d like to receive more information about breast cancer and find out what the Breast Health and Healing Foundation is doing to battle the disease, please sign up for our newsletter. You can sign up here:  http://breasthealthandhealing.org/im-in/.

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