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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1996 Oct 16;88(20):1456-66.

Tumor marker utility grading system: a framework to evaluate clinical utility of tumor markers.

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Breast Evaluation Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA.


Introduction of tumor markers into routine clinical practice has been poorly controlled, with few criteria or guidelines as to how such markers should be used. We propose a Tumor Marker Utility Grading System (TMUGS) to evaluate the clinical utility of tumor markers and to establish an investigational agenda for evaluation of new tumor markers. A Tumor Marker Utility Grading Worksheet has been designed. The initial portion of this worksheet is used to clarify the precise characteristics of the marker in question. These characteristics include the marker designation, the molecule and/or substance and the relevant alteration from normalcy, the assay format and reagents, the specimen type, and the neoplastic disease for which the marker is being evaluated. To determine the clinical utility of each marker, one of several potential uses must be designated, including risk assessment, screening, differential diagnosis, prognosis, and monitoring clinical course. For each of these uses, associations between marker assay results and expected biologic process and end points must be determined. However, knowledge of tumor marker data should contribute to a decision in practice that results in a more favorable clinical outcome for the patient, including increased overall survival, increased disease-free survival, improvement in quality of life, or reduction in cost of care. Semiquantitative utility scales have been developed for each end point. The only markers recommended for use in routine clinical practice are those that are assigned utility scores of "++" or " " on a 6-point scale (ranging from 0 to ) in the categories relative to more favorable clinical outcomes. Each utility score assignment should be supported by documentation of the level of evidence used to evaluate the marker. TMUGS will establish a standardized analytic technique to evaluate clinical utility of known and future tumor markers. It should result in improved patient outcomes and more cost-efficient investigation and application of tumor markers.

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