Biomarkers or molecular markers are the biological molecule present in the blood, cell lines, and tissues and in other body fluids as an indicator for the normal as well as the abnormal processes of the body and also works as a measurable indicator of any underlying biological condition or disease. Various types of biomolecules such as DNA (genes), RNA, proteins or hormones, can serve as biomarkers, as they all take part in various metabolic processes of the body.
Biomarkers play an essential role in the field of Oncology. It is said that the understanding of Cancer biomarkers is key to developing a right treatment plan for an individual. But notably, Biomarkers are not limited to Cancer. There are several biomarkers for heart diseases, infections, multiple sclerosis, and many other diseases.
Cancer biomarker refers to any molecule or metabolic changes inside the body that is characteristic of the presence of Cancer in the body. It may be produced by the tumors itself or by other cells and tissues, in response to the presence of Cancer in the body.
Cancer biomarkers may include proteins and other biomolecules, gene mutations, missing genes, and various gene rearrangements. Each of them works and reacts differently within the body.
In clinical research, and medicine, Cancer biomarkers are primarily used in three ways:
- For the diagnosis of the condition as in case of early stage Cancers,
- To predict how aggressively Cancer will grow and are therefore useful for assessing prognosis, and
- For the prediction of a patient’s response to the treatment.
Function of Cancer Biomarkers
- Risk assessment: Offers a quantitative way to determine predisposal of an individual for the particular type of Cancer. For example- overexpression of the HER2 protein, hypermethylation of MYOD1, CDH1, and CDH13 for cervical Cancer, etc.,
- Diagnosis: determining the origin of Cancer whether they are primary or metastatic by screening the chromosomal alterations found on the cells.
- Prognosis and prediction of the treatment: when an individual has been diagnosed with Cancer, certain biomarkers determine the aggressiveness of an identified Cancer. Such biomarkers include HER2/neu gene amplification for breast Cancers, elevated estrogen receptor (ER) and/or progesterone receptor (PR) expression, etc.
- Pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics: As each individual have a different genetic makeup, they respond to treatments, and drug differently. In some cases, a certain drug can result into a dangerous condition, such as in case of Individuals with mutations in the TPMT gene to metabolize large amount of a leukemia drug, potentially causes a fatal drop in white blood count for such patients. Hence, Cancer biomarkers are used to determine the most effective treatment regime.
- Monitoring treatment response: Such biomarkers shows how a treatment is working overtime and how well an individual is responding to the treatment.