Molecular markers in bladder cancer: Novel research frontiers

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2015;52(5):242-55. doi: 10.3109/10408363.2015.1033610. Epub 2015 Jun 8.


Bladder cancer (BC) is a heterogeneous disease encompassing distinct biologic features that lead to extremely different clinical behaviors. In the last 20 years, great efforts have been made to predict disease outcome and response to treatment by developing risk assessment calculators based on multiple standard clinical-pathological factors, as well as by testing several molecular markers. Unfortunately, risk assessment calculators alone fail to accurately assess a single patient's prognosis and response to different treatment options. Several molecular markers easily assessable by routine immunohistochemical techniques hold promise for becoming widely available and cost-effective tools for a more reliable risk assessment, but none have yet entered routine clinical practice. Current research is therefore moving towards (i) identifying novel molecular markers; (ii) testing old and new markers in homogeneous patients' populations receiving homogeneous treatments; (iii) generating a multimarker panel that could be easily, and thus routinely, used in clinical practice; (iv) developing novel risk assessment tools, possibly combining standard clinical-pathological factors with molecular markers. This review analyses the emerging body of literature concerning novel biomarkers, ranging from genetic changes to altered expression of a huge variety of molecules, potentially involved in BC outcome and response to treatment. Findings suggest that some of these indicators, such as serum circulating tumor cells and tissue mitochondrial DNA, seem to be easily assessable and provide reliable information. Other markers, such as the phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT (serine-threonine kinase)/mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway and epigenetic changes in DNA methylation seem to not only have prognostic/predictive value but also, most importantly, represent valuable therapeutic targets. Finally, there is increasing evidence that the development of novel risk assessment tools combining standard clinical-pathological factors with molecular markers represents a major quest in managing this poorly predictable disease.

Keywords: Molecular biology; pathology; statistical analysis; urinary malignancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Prognosis
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / blood
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / urine


  • Biomarkers