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The Rocky Road to Useful Cancer Biomarkers

Jennifer Fisher Wilson
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Ann Intern Med. 2006;144(12):945-948. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-144-12-200606200-00022
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Biomarkers may be the future of cancer care, allowing earlier diagnosis and more efficient and effective treatment. Certainly, expectations for biomarkers are high, a result of the mapping of the human genome and the development of fast gene and protein analysis technology, as well as promising research reports. But the potential of biomarkers has been harder to realize than expected. Close examination has disproved some promising new biomarkers—specific molecules in the body, such as genes and proteins, that indicate disease—and other biomarkers have ultimately held limited clinical value. Mistakes have also occurred in some biomarker tests used to determine who receives targeted cancer treatments.

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Biomarkers - From benchside to bedside: A reality or distant dream?
Posted on June 26, 2006
Sohil Ahmed Khan
Manipal College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Manipal
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

Early diagnosis favors treatment success in most cancer patients. Changes in the concentration of certain tumour markers that are raised in serum or other body fluids can provide early identification of the efficacy or failure of therapy in the patients. Hence use of biomarkers in early detection or screening would seem an attractive option.

A few currently available tumour markers can be successfully applied to screening of selected population but their broad application is limited in almost all cases by poor sensitivity and specificity for early stage disease. Given the relatively low prevalence of most common cancers, unless sensitivity and specificity approach 100%, population screening is unlikely to be a viable option. In the future, screening programmes testing for genetic susceptibility to cancer may be more effective in identifying patients who could benefit from early investigation [1].

Currently the methods for detection of biomarkers tend to be expensive due to the cost of equipments and reagents, rigid because of inflexible test panels and can be technically demanding if reproducible and reliable results are to be obtained. Besides this, interpretation of sequential measurements is a task for specialists who are able to integrate information at a multidisciplinary level in collaboration with general practitioners, surgeons, oncologists and other related healthcare professionals.


1. C Sturgeon. A wider role for tumour markers in screening? Clinical Laboratory International 2006;30:10-13.

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None declared

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