MyCancer

My Cancer is an educational resource for cancer patients and their caregivers, sponsored by Caris Life Sciences®. The site is designed to provide information about molecular profiling, cancer biomarkers and the transformation of cancer treatment through emerging research.

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What are cancer biomarkers?

The word “biomarker” can refer to many different compounds in the body that indicate something about your health. There are biomarkers for heart disease, multiple sclerosis and many other diseases.

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. While some cancer biomarkers can be used to predict how aggressively your cancer will grow and are therefore useful for prognosis, the most promising use of biomarkers today to identify which therapies a particular patient’s cancer may or may not respond to.

There are many types of cancer biomarkers, and they each work differently within your body and react differently to treatments:

Biomarkers that trigger cells to grow and multiply abnormally

Example:
HER2 triggers growth and multiplication in certain cells. If you have what’s called an “overexpression” of HER2, that means treatments known to disrupt the HER2 signaling path are likely to help stop your cancer’s growth.

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Biomarkers that support a treatment’s cellular or molecular action

Example:
The SPARC biomarker helps bring a substance within the body called albumin into cells. Therefore, an overexpression of SPARC helps treatments bound with albumin work more effectively by bringing the treatment right into the cell.

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Biomarkers that disrupt a treatment’s cellular or molecular action

Example:
Certain cancer medicines use platinum to disrupt tumor DNA. But the cancer biomarker ERCC1 repairs tumor DNA. If biomarker detection confirms high levels of ERCC1, platinum-based agents aren’t likely to be very effective.

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Even within these categories, there is variety. For example, molecules that trigger abnormal cell growth can come from a gene mutation or from extra copies of an otherwise healthy gene within the tumor’s DNA.

Cancer biomarkers can include:

  • Proteins
  • Gene mutations
  • Gene rearrangements
  • Extra copies of genes
  • Missing genes
  • Other molecules

Your genes and your cancer biomarkers are not exactly the same thing.

There are identifiable genes in some people’s DNA that can indicate an increased risk of developing certain cancers. (BRCA1 and BRCA2, the so-called “breast cancer genes,” are examples of this type of cancer gene.)

However, most cancer is not inherited, so most people who are diagnosed with cancer do not have any of the “cancer genes” — at least none that we can currently identify. But all cancers do have biomarkers, including genetic biomarkers. So, what’s the difference?

Your cancer has a unique version of your DNA that is different from the DNA in your healthy cells. Most of the cancer biomarkers that have been associated with treatments have to do with your tumor’s unique genes and molecular structure, rather than your own genes.

> Learn more about the latest cancer biomarkers research.