- urine, or body tissues of some patients with certain types of cancer. A tumor marker may be made by a tumor itself or by the body in response to the tumor. Such a substance serves to "mark" the tumor; it is a "tumor marker." Tumor marker tests are not used alone to detect and diagnose cancer because most tumor markers can be elevated in patients who don't have a tumor; because no tumor marker is entirely specific to a particular type of cancer; and because not every cancer patient has an elevated tumor marker level, especially in the early stages of cancer, when tumor marker levels are usually still normal. Although tumor markers are typically imperfect as screening tests to detect occult (hidden) cancers, once a particular tumor has been found with a marker, the marker may be a marvel as a means of monitoring the success (or failure) of treatment. The tumor marker level may also reflect the extent (the stage) of the disease, indicate how quickly the cancer is likely to progress and so help determine the prognosis (outlook). Examples of tumor markers include alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), and neuron-specific enolase (NSE).
Medical dictionary. 2011.
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