Background: Tumour markers are frequently used in clinical practice and the reason for ordering varies considerably and often seems to be inappropriate. We carried out a survey of Italian laboratories on their current pattern of use.
Methods: Forty-four laboratories located in health-care institutions with inpatient beds were surveyed about the organizational, clinical and methodological aspects of tumour markers ordering.
Results: Thirty-one laboratories (70%) filled in and returned the questionnaire. Overall, 977,786 tumour marker tests were scrutinized. The pattern of tumour marker use did not seem to be influenced by the institutional setting, by availability of oncology facilities or by adoption of clinical guidelines. In addition, the information flow from clinicians to the laboratory and vice versa was poor and informal.
Conclusions: Monitoring tumour marker pattern use can provide valuable information for health-care decision makers, highlighting potential inadequacies in laboratory services but also identifying problems in other areas of health-care delivery that could benefit from educational programmes.