Tumour marker measurements in the diagnosis and monitoring of breast cancer

Cancer Treat Rev. 2000 Apr;26(2):91-102. doi: 10.1053/ctrv.1999.0151.


Elevation of established blood tumour markers correlates with the stage of breast cancer. The major role of current blood markers is therefore in the diagnosis and monitoring of metastatic disease. A combination of markers is better than a single marker with the most widely adopted combination being CEA and one MUC1 mucin, commonly detected as either CA15.3 or CA27.29. Tumour marker measurement is now used as a complementary test in the diagnosis of symptomatic metastases. In the monitoring of therapeutic response to both endocrine and cytotoxic therapies in advanced disease, biochemical assessment using blood markers not only correlates with conventional UICC criteria but has a lot of advantages which make it a potentially superior way of assessment. In this regard, CA15.3, CEA and ESR are the best validated combination. Studies are ongoing to evaluate the use of sequential blood tumour marker measurements in the follow-up of patients after treatment for their primary breast cancer, in terms of both early detection and early therapeutic intervention. Further randomized studies are also required to ascertain that marker-directed therapy is superior to the current practice for metastatic disease. In line with clinical studies, intensive laboratory work is being carried out to optimize the use of blood markers in advanced disease as well as to exploit their use in screening and diagnosis of early primary breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / blood
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Mucin-1 / blood
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • Mucin-1