Controversy in tumor marker numbers?


Question from Cheryl: I hear a lot of disagreement about tumor marker numbers. Can you talk a little about this—is it something to be afraid of when I have blood work?
Answers - Marisa Weiss, M.D. Getting tumor markers in follow-ups is controversial. Most doctors do not recommend getting these blood tumor markers over time because the study results show that finding a cancer occurrence a little bit earlier because of a tumor marker result does not result in a better outcome. Also, the tumor markers currently available for detecting breast cancer are far from perfect. You can have an abnormal marker and have no cancer present; you can also have a normal marker and have a cancer problem. What ends up happening commonly is that the markers may increase a little bit or fluctuate, and this leads to a number of additional studies then, trying to figure out where the abnormal marker might be coming from. Most of these diagnostic searches end up as wild goose chases, and with each one of these tests, there is so much anxiety in waiting for the answers and what they might show. They are also expensive. For these reasons, most doctors don't recommend them. As a doctor myself, I clearly understand why women want them—women are anxious to find a measure of how they are doing. But right now, markers are not a reliable measure that offers a significant benefit in the long run.

On Wednesday, June 20, 2001, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Tackling Fear. Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., M.A.S.,Marisa Weiss, M.D. and moderator Gwen Darien, Editor-in-Chief, MAMM Magazine, answered your questions about how to manage breast cancer fears.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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