Biomarkers for early detection and as surrogate endpoints in cancer prevention trials: issues and opportunities

Recent Results Cancer Res. 2011;188:21-47. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-10858-7_3.


In order to improve the early detection and diagnosis of cancer, give more accurate prognoses, stratify individuals by risk, predict response to treatment, and help the transition of basic research into clinical application, biomarkers are needed that accurately represent or predict clinical outcomes. To be useful in trials for chemopreventive agent development, biomarkers must be subject to modulation, easy to obtain and quantify, and have biological meaning, ideally representing steps in well-understood carcinogenic pathways. Though difficult to validate fully, wisely chosen biomarkers in early-phase trials can inform the prioritization of large-scale, long-term trials that measure clinical outcomes. When well-designed, smaller trials using biomarkers as surrogate endpoints should promote faster decisions regarding which targeted preventive agents to pursue, promising greater progress in the personalization of medicine. Biomarkers could become useful in distinguishing indolent from aggressive forms of ductal carcinoma in situ as well as localized invasive breast and prostate cancer, lesions that are often overtreated. Chemopreventive strategies that reduce the progression of early forms of premalignancy can benefit patients not only by reducing their risk of cancer and death from cancer but also by reducing their need for invasive interventions. Genomic and proteomic methods offer the possibility of revealing new potential markers, especially for diseases whose biology is complex or not well understood. Panels of markers may be used to accommodate the molecular heterogeneity of cancers. Biomarkers in phase 2 prevention trials of combinations of chemopreventive drugs have been used to demonstrate synergistic action of multiple agents, allowing use of lower doses, with less toxicity, a critical feature of interventions intended for cancer prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Early Detection of Cancer*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / prevention & control


  • Biomarkers
  • Biomarkers, Tumor