Tumour Markers

Hi everyone, 

I’ve been on this group since about July last year and had a lot of useful and reassuring information. 

I went for my bloods last week and the following day I got my blood results and it’s the first time they have ever mentioned tumour markers to me. 

They told me my tumour markers started around 50 and she said that they continue to decrease, now I am hoping this is a good sign that the palbociclib and letrozole is continuing to work can anyone explain a bit more to me about these tumour markers as I am fairly new to the secondary group and is it something I should be very concerned about if they should start to rise. 

Tbh I just nodded my head and didn’t ask no questions but I want to be armed for next time I get blood results to ask the right questions. 

any information will be very much appreciated 

Thank you 

Tanya x

Hi Tanya

This is a bit of a minefield as some oncologists reject markers out of hand as unreliable while others use them as a helpful guide as to what is going on. My secondary tumour only shows on a 3-D MRI (understandably not done very often) and my skin mets, over almost 2 years, haven’t shown anywhere as they are too near the surface - so my oncologist goes by markers and the very high-tech approach of touch and feel. So what should you know?

  1. There are blood markers and tumour markers (CA15-3 and CA27-29 - I think, I don’t have anything written here). So you need to make sure you know which marker has been measured in your blood tests.

  2. Everyone has blood markers and they may be active without the presence of cancer. Other infections and diseases cause activity. So don’t try to compare your markers with anyone else’s. My first blood marker was 128 and dropped to 18 but I know of someone whose blood markers started at almost 3000. This is not an indication of anything extra going on. It’s just how it is.

  3. Tumour markers tend to be lower. Mine started at 49 I think and dropped to 9. They weren’t mentioned until I’d finished my third cycle of treatment and a change could be seen. Like you, I was surprised and said nothing.

  4. Markers can rise as a result of any kind of inflammation, even that caused by chemo, so a rise in your markers is not a cause for alarm. Both mine have risen to high 20s and 30s (from 9 and 18) but this isn’t yet a cause for concern as they have levelled out and danced around.

  5. The cause for concern is a continued upward trend, over 3 or more readings. There is no ‘safe’ baseline figure because so many people are well outside the range but below 35 is considered normal. Activity lower than this is not a cause for concern. But what about people whose figures never drop into that zone? Oncologists go by the pattern over a series of blood tests.

  6. When your oncologist mentions your markers, just lean forward and say can you show me the figures please? They have a chart of the figures, with areas of concern highlighted in red - but there are so many columns, it’s confusing. It is a simple step from the spreadsheet to show you a graph - that reveals the pattern clearly in my opinion. It may be too early in your treatment for a graph of course but one day…

So your tumour markers indicate that your treatment is being successful and your tumour is less active than it was. If there is a rise, don’t panic. You may have had a cold you didn’t think about, you may have had a vaccination. Your oncologist will compare that reading with the next results. And the next. Fluctuations are common and no cause for worry. Some time in the future, a continued upward trend will probably indicate the treatment is being less effective and some revision to your treatment plan may be needed. It’s really a case of wait and see - something that we have to get used to.

I hope everything continues to go well for you. You might find there’s a more accurate explanation in BCN’s information database but this is my experience over 2 years. 

Jan x