Diagnostic Biomarkers for Cancer

July 29, 2014


Our ability to clinically diagnose breast cancer is largely provided for by modern medical imaging and related diagnostic technologies. Medical imaging has become advanced enough that it is sometimes possible to accurately diagnose breast cancers using only diagnostic imaging, without using any invasive procedures.

Although effective, medical imaging does have drawbacks. Imaging can be expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes painful. Imaging without biopsy can also lead to a false-positive or false-negative result, which could lead to more unnecessary procedures1. It is because of these drawbacks to imaging that more research has been dedicated to discovering accurate diagnostic biomarkers for breast cancer.

A biomarker is any biological material found in the body that can be used as an indicator for the presence of some disease2. Researchers have discovered biomarkers and use them to diagnose diseases like prostate cancer using only a urine sample2. Similar tests have been sought after for many other types of diseases, and it is likely that in the near future we may see the discovery of many other diagnostic biomarkers2.

The new advances in bioinformatics and new understanding of the human genome have contributed to the discovery of new biomarkers. In fact, a research group recently discovered a biomarker for breast cancer that can be detected through blood plasma. Briefly discussed in a previous blog post, this finding could lead to the development of a blood test that could accurately diagnose breast cancer. The test works by analyzing the protein patterns found in the patient’s blood, and uses certain patterns as an indication of the presence of breast cancer3. Although not completely accurate, the test was able to diagnose breast cancer with high enough specificity that it is a comparable diagnostic test to many already existing imaging technologies3.

The up-and-coming research on diagnostic biomarkers for cancer have contributed greatly to the accuracy and efficiency of modern diagnostics. It is likely that in the nearby future we will see the development of many new diagnostic tests that will allow us to identify cancer earlier, and increase the chance of survival.


  1. Nelson, Heidi D., et al. “Screening for breast cancer: an update for the US Preventive Services Task Force.” Annals of internal medicine 151.10 (2009): 727-737.
  2. Kulasingam, Vathany, and Eleftherios P. Diamandis. “Strategies for discovering novel cancer biomarkers through utilization of emerging technologies.” Nature clinical practice Oncology 5.10 (2008): 588-599.
  3. Chung, Liping, et al. “Novel serum protein biomarker panel revealed by mass spectrometry and its prognostic value in breast cancer.” Breast Cancer Research 16.3 (2014): R63.


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