CA 15-3 which detects soluble forms of MUC-1 protein is the most widely used serum marker in patients with breast cancer. Its main use is for monitoring therapy in patients with metastatic disease. In monitoring therapy in this setting, CA 15-3 should not be used alone but measured in conjunction with diagnostic imaging, clinical history and physical examination. CA 15-3 is particularly valuable for treatment monitoring in patients that have disease that cannot be evaluated using existing radiological procedures. CA 15-3 may also be used in the postoperative surveillance of asymptomatic women who have undergone surgery for invasive breast cancer. In this setting, serial determination can provide median lead-times of 5-6 months in the early detection of recurrent/metastatic breast cancer. It is unclear however, whether administering systemic therapy based on this lead-time improves patient outcome. Consequently, expert panels disagree on the utility of regularly measuring CA 15-3 in the postoperative surveillance of asymptomatic women following a diagnosis of breast cancer. The main limitation of CA 15-3 as a marker for breast cancer is that serum levels are rarely increased in patients with early or localized disease.
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