Learn about cancer treatments

Tests that impact treatment options

How biomarkers help with cancer diagnosis and treatment

Cancer Biomarkers

The information on this page may help you gain a better understanding of cancer biomarkers. Being prepared may help when making important decisions with your doctor.

What is a cancer biomarker?

What Is a Cancer Biomarker?

A biomarker is a biological molecule (which can be measured) that is found in blood, other body fluids or tissues. It is a sign of a normal or abnormal process or of a condition or disease. In cancer treatment, biomarker testing, or tumor marker testing, is a way to look for genes, proteins and other substances that can provide information about a person’s cancer.

What may be learned from biomarkers?

Doctors often test for cancer biomarkers to help determine:

Diagnosis

What kind of cancer you may have

Treatment

What type of treatment may be right for you

Monitoring

How well a treatment may be working

Why does this matter?

Cancer biomarker testing may be used to create a personalized treatment plan based on your results so that you can receive the treatments that are best for you.

Types of cancer biomarkers

Genes tell your body what to do and how to work. They help make proteins, which play an important role. Cancer biomarkers are usually genes or proteins that may affect cancer cells or other cells in your body. They include:

Genetic Changes

Mutation: a change in the DNA sequence at a specific location

Insertion: when an extra piece of DNA is added

Amplification: when there are extra amounts of DNA

Deletion: when a piece of DNA is missing

Translocation: when a piece of DNA is moved somewhere else

Protein Levels

Whether you have a certain protein

Whether you have too much or not enough of a protein

Types of Biomarker Testing

How you may be tested for cancer biomarkers

There are different ways that cancer biomarkers can be detected and measured. The type of biomarker test you get will depend on what your doctor decides is right for you. Biomarker testing may be done using blood draws, urine tests, or biopsies of the tumor, blood, or tissue sample.

After testing, what happens next?

Your samples (the clues) will be sent to a lab, and the results will come back to your health care team. This process usually takes 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the type of test. Your health care team will then discuss the results with you and help you with next steps.

Example questions to ask your doctor

  • Have you done a biomarker test and, if so, what biomarker(s) did you use to diagnose the kind of cancer I have?
  • What does this biomarker mean for my treatment?
  • What biomarker(s) would let me know how well treatment is going?
  • Could I pass a biomarker on to my children that would put them at risk for cancer?
        
Have you done a biomarker test and, if so, what biomarker(s) did you use to diagnose the kind of cancer I have?
What does this biomarker mean for my treatment?
What biomarker(s) would let me know how well treatment is going?
Could I pass a biomarker on to my children that would put them at risk for cancer?