The measurement of tumor markers is currently one of the most rapidly growing areas in laboratory medicine. Lack of sensitivity and specificity preclude the use of most existing markers for the early detection of malignancy. For patients with diagnosed malignancy, however, markers are potentially useful in determining prognosis, predicting therapeutic response, maintaining surveillance following curative surgery and monitoring therapy in advanced disease. Clinically useful markers include CEA in the surveillance of patients with diagnosed colorectal cancer, AFP and HCG in the management of patients with non-seminomatous germ cell tumors, HCG in the management of patients with trophoblastic disease, CA 125 for monitoring therapy in patients with ovarian cancer, estrogen receptors for predicting response to hormone therapy in breast cancer and HER-2 for the identification of women with breast cancer likely to respond to trastuzumab (Herceptin). Although widely used, the impact of PSA screening in reducing mortality from prostate cancer remains to be shown.
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