It’s the first time in a while, so I’m putting together a list of questions for the planning party with my oncologist. The first question, of course, will be Is my treatment working? We should have a new reading for my tumor markers. It’s another one of the details that is easy to obsess about. Why, I’m not sure since tumor markers are only part of the whole picture of cancer progression. Maybe it’s because they are easy to understand numbers: number decreasing, good; number increasing, bad. Tumor markers are one of the measures for detecting cancer activity in advanced breast cancer.
If you have tumor markers (50 to 90 percent of breast cancer patients have them), your doctor will use them to gauge the effectiveness of the treatment or to detect whether advanced cancer has started to progress again. Because an increase in the number can have a cause other than the obvious progression of disease, tumor markers are only part of the process of detection. Normally, your oncologist will use tumor markers, when present, along with other tests such as various scans: bone scan, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan, to confirm effectiveness of treatment and progression of the disease. These three sites provide a comprehensive explanation of tumor markers.