Top of the page
A tumour marker is a substance released by cancer cells or by normal cells when cancer is in the body. Tumour markers can be hormones, proteins, enzymes, or other substances. Some conditions that are benign (not cancer) also release tumour markers.
Blood tests are the most common way to test for them. But some markers can be found in other body fluids and in tissue.
Tumour markers can show different things about cancer. Tests for tumour markers can be used (along with other tests) to help diagnose cancer. Tumour markers also can be used to see how far cancer has spread (what stage it is). Doctors can use them to see how well treatment is working and if cancer has come back (recurred) after treatment.
Some tumour markers help doctors choose the most effective treatment. They also can be used to predict when to start treatment again.
Low or no levels of tumour markers usually mean that treatment is working or that cancer hasn't come back.
There are many kinds of tumour markers. Here are a few of the most common.
Tests that look for tumour markers, such as the 21-gene signature test (Oncotype DX) may be done on tumour tissue. Tumour markers can show if the cancer is likely to come back.
Other Works ConsultedFischbach F, Dunning MB III (2015). A Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health.Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2014). Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.
Adaptation Date: 5/7/2021
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.