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Cancer Biomarkers

(Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications)

As researchers learn more about how cancer cells develop, grow, and spread, more attention is being paid to the role biomarkers play in these processes. It may not seem obvious at first, but the understanding of cancer biomarkers is key to developing a treatment plan.
Cancer biomarkers can include: Proteins, Gene mutations (changes), Gene rearrangements, Extra copies of genes, Missing genes, and Other molecules.
When people talk about cancer biomarkers they’re usually referring to proteins, genes, and other molecules that affect how cancer cells grow, multiply, die, and respond to other compounds in the body. In recent years, scientists have started to look at patterns of gene expression and changes in DNA as cancer biomarkers. While some cancer biomarkers can be used to predict how aggressively your cancer will grow, and are therefore useful for assessing your prognosis (outlook), the most promising use of biomarkers today is to identify which therapies a particular patient’s cancer may or may not respond to.

Learning some basic facts about DNA, RNA and proteins is helpful for understanding the importance of biomarkers in cancer. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a molecule inside the cell that carries genetic information and passes it on from one generation to the next. RNA (ribonucleic acid) contains information that has been copied from DNA. Body cells make several different types of RNA molecules that are necessary for the synthesis of protein molecules. For example, mRNA, or messenger RNA molecules, serve as templates for the synthesis of proteins from amino acid building blocks, while tRNA, or transfer RNA molecules, bring the amino acid residues to the ribosome. Inside the ribosome – an organelle where the protein is being synthesized – tRNA “reads” the mRNA template in a process called translation. 

Proteins help the body function properly and are the basis of body structures such as skin and hair. They have a wide range of functions inside the human body. Certain proteins speed up chemical reactions (enzymes), others affect the functioning of the immune system (cytokines), and yet others, known as antibodies, trigger specific immune responses in response to antigens – harmful substances that the body periodically has to overcome.

There are many types of cancer biomarkers, and they each work differently within the body and react differently to treatments. In general, cancer biomarkers are classified by their different functions: 


Please refer to [What are Biomarkers: The Growing Importance of Biomarkers in Cancer] for more details.


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