Merck Manual

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Some Tumor Markers*

Some Tumor Markers*

Tumor Marker

Description

Comment About Testing

Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)

Elevated AFP levels often are found in the blood of people with liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). In addition, elevated AFP is often found in people with certain cancers of the ovary or testis.

Testing can be useful in monitoring treatment and perhaps for diagnosis of cancer in a person with cirrhosis (liver damage due to alcohol or viral hepatitis).

Beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (ß-HCG)

This hormone is produced during pregnancy but also occurs in women who have a cancer originating in the placenta and in men with testicular cancer.

Testing can be useful in diagnosing such cancers and in monitoring treatment.

Beta22)-microglobulin

Levels may be elevated in people with multiple myeloma and some lymphomas.

This test is not recommended for cancer screening.

Calcitonin

Calcitonin is produced by certain cells in the thyroid gland (C cells). Blood levels are elevated in medullary thyroid cancer.

This test may be used to detect the presence of cancer and monitor response to treatment of medullary thyroid cancer.

Carbohydrate antigen 125 (CA-125)

Levels may be elevated in women with a variety of gynecologic diseases, including ovarian cancer.

This test is not recommended for cancer screening.

Carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9)

Levels may be elevated in people with cancers of the digestive tract, particularly pancreatic cancer.

This test is used in monitoring response to treatment and in the diagnosis of tumors of unknown origin.

Carbohydrate antigen 27.29 (CA27.29)

Levels may be elevated in people with breast cancer.

This test can be used in monitoring treatment.

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)

Levels may be elevated in the blood of people with cancer of the colon. Blood levels may also be elevated in patients with other cancers or noncancerous inflammatory conditions.

After surgery for colon cancer, testing can be useful in monitoring treatment and detecting recurrence.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA)

Levels are elevated in men with noncancerous (benign) enlargement of the prostate and often are considerably higher in men with prostate cancer. Men with an elevated PSA level should be evaluated further by a doctor.

Testing may be useful in screening for cancer and is helpful in detecting recurrence after treatment.

Thyroglobulin

Levels may be elevated in people with thyroid cancer or benign thyroid conditions.

This test is not recommended for routine screening but may be helpful for monitoring response to treatment of thyroid cancer.

*Because tumor markers can also be produced by noncancerous tissue, doctors generally do not use them to screen healthy people. Exceptions may include PSA for prostate cancer and AFP for people at risk of hepatoma. In families with inherited medullary thyroid cancer, a rare condition, levels of calcitonin in the blood also may be a useful screening test.