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Clin Chem. 2002 Aug;48(8):1178-85.

Real-time PCR technology for cancer diagnostics.

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Department of Pathology, University of Utah School of Medicine, 30 North 1900 East, Salt Lake City 84132, USA.



Advances in the biological sciences and technology are providing molecular targets for diagnosing and treating cancer. Current classifications in surgical pathology for staging malignancies are based primarily on anatomic features (e.g., tumor-node-metastasis) and histopathology (e.g., grade). Microarrays together with clustering algorithms are revealing a molecular diversity among cancers that promises to form a new taxonomy with prognostic and, more importantly, therapeutic significance. The challenge for pathology will be the development and implementation of these molecular classifications for routine clinical practice.


This article discusses the benefits, challenges, and possibilities for solid-tumor profiling in the clinical laboratory with an emphasis on DNA-based PCR techniques.


Molecular markers can be used to provide accurate prognosis and to predict response, resistance, or toxicity to therapy. The diversity of genomic alterations involved in malignancy necessitates a variety of assays for complete tumor profiling. Some new molecular classifications of tumors are based on gene expression, requiring a paradigm shift in specimen processing to preserve the integrity of RNA for analysis. More stable markers (i.e., DNA and protein) are readily handled in the clinical laboratory. Quantitative real-time PCR can determine gene duplications or deletions. Furthermore, melting curve analysis immediately after PCR can identify small mutations, down to single base changes. These techniques are becoming easier and faster and can be multiplexed. Real-time PCR methods are a favorable option for the analysis of cancer markers.


There is a need to translate recent discoveries in oncology research into clinical practice. This requires objective, robust, and cost-effective molecular techniques for clinical trials and, eventually, routine use. Real-time PCR has attractive features for tumor profiling in the clinical laboratory.

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