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Semin Oncol. 2010 Jun;37(3):224-42. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2010.05.007.

Molecular markers for early detection.

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  • 1National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Prevention, Bethesda, MD 20892-7340, USA. dunnb@mail.nih.gov


A common belief is that the earlier that cancer is detected, the better the chance exists for reduced mortality and morbidity. The advent of new and emerging molecular, genetic, and imaging technologies has broadened the possible strategies for early detection and prevention, but a beneficial impact on mortality needs to be supported by clinical evidence. Molecular markers are being identified that are enhancing our ability to predict and detect cancer before it develops and at the earliest signs of impending carcinogenic transformation. Of the innumerable molecular markers in development, a standalone early detection marker with acceptable sensitivity and specificity is available for bladder cancer, although for most cancer sites there are promising avenues of research that will likely produce results in the next decade. The perfect molecular marker would be one that is inherently related to the disease, specifically to the processes of malignant tumorigenesis or to the defense mechanisms of the individual. For example, mutations associated with increased cancer risk often produce gene products that interfere with tumor-suppressor pathways (eg, DNA repair or cell-cycle control) or support oncogenic pathways (eg, through genetic instability or silencing the apoptotic pathway). Finding molecular markers associated with these processes, and where in the process they produce their actions, can lead to interventions based on maintaining support for the normal process and interrupting the action of the products of the mutation. The search for molecular markers for cancer prevention and early detection presents a formidable challenge that requires a systematic and scientifically sound validation process. The search encompasses a broad range of scientific disciplines, including biochemistry, genetics, histology, immunology, informatic technologies, and epidemiology; strategies to identify and understand molecular markers are approached with multidisciplinary teams focused on understanding the mechanistic basis of cancer and the processes and pathways that underlie carcinogenesis.

2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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