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Some take common tumor marker tests including AFP, CEA, AVCA/IGA, CA125, etc and find out the results are beyond the normal range, making them worry a lot. Does it definitely mean cancer?
Don’t be anxious first. When you know what tumor markers are, you will have more reasonable idea on it. According to oncologist from Clifford Hospital, tumor markers are substances, often proteins, that are produced by the cancer tissue itself or sometimes by the body in response to cancer growth.They can be detected by biological, immunological, or biochemical methods in laboratory.
Oncologist also pointed out that even though the tumor marker levels are high, it can’t tell whether someone has cancer or not. For example, tumor marker levels like AFP will increase when people get pregnant, active hepatitis, or reproductive system tumors except for hepatic cancer. Besides, it may have false positive result due to different equipment or testing reagents. It is necessary to combine other clinical methods to confirm the diagnosis. So, people should not worry too much.
Cancer patients may also have normal tumor marker levels
It is notable that not every cancer patient will have high levels of tumor marker. For example, the levels of CA125 may be normal in some ovarian cancer patients although cancer deteriorates into advanced stage.
At present, there are 2 types of tumor makers with high sensitivity, AFP and PSA. Elevated AFP levels are showed in 70%-90% of primary liver cancer cases. And PSA levels are increased in about 70% of prostate cancer cases. It helps detect and diagnose cancer early, but there is no tumor marker that has 100% association with cancer at present.
In addition, don’t be in panic for single tumor marker that mildly increases. It is necessary to recheck the changes of values regularly, but it doesn’t make sense if the values keep in the mild levels after rechecking. And you will be suggested to do several common tumor marker tests if you are available. Once cancer develops, it might be seen in abnormalities on several tumor markers.
Indeed, there are several situations that should be paid attention to. Firstly, single tumor marker level is extremely high or several times higher than normal range. Secondly, the value is unstable and increasing continuously after checking over and over again. Thirdly, those who have family history find out elevated tumor marker levels. As for the first and the second condition, oncologist advised you to examine about gastrointestinal diseases and if it is normal, it is better to check esophagus, liver, breast, etc. For the last condition, it is suggested take regular check up even though there is no symptom at all.
Oncologist warnedthat those high-risk groups, including people over 60 years old, people with family history, and chronic B hepatitis patients, etc, should take tumor marker screening.
What do tumor maker tests do for?
In some types of cancer, the level of a tumor marker reflects cancer stage, metastasis, recurrence, the patient’s prognosis, etc. Oncologist from Clifford Hospital indicated that the tumor maker result after the first treatment is often used clinically as the “individual reference value”to judge treatment effect according to the changes. If the following values decrease to the normal range or by over 95%, it may stand for the treatment takes effect. If the value drops but stays above the normal range, it may show tumor is not eliminated or it metastasizes. And an increase of tumor marker after a fall within normal range may indicate cancer metastasis or recurrence. Thus, tumor marker measuring helps doctor to determine a prognosis and treatment plan.
Currently, international tumor marker standard is imperfect. For the same marker, every hospital uses different methods and detected reagents, so the result is different. Oncologist from Clifford Hospital suggests cancer patient should choose one hospital for long monitoring so that doctor can give accurate judgment toward the disease.