Advancements in Cancer Screening Tests
- Cancer & Caregiving
- June 18, 2012
Cancer screenings are a strong initiative in our nation. One of the primary goals for medical researchers is to develop tests that can detect cancer in its earliest stages.
Outside of traditional X-rays, early detection is sometimes accomplished through the discovery of specific antigens, also known as tumor markers.
Diagnosing cancer in its early stage of development significantly helps prognosis and usually opens the door to more treatment options. This is especially true for mesothelioma, a cancer that develops quickly and carries a poor prognosis.
Your doctor may prescribe one of the following tests to check for tumor markers:
- Bone marrow
- Cerebrospinal fluid
- Tumor tissue
Indicators that your body isn’t functioning properly can come from the presence of antigens and antibodies. But what are they, and how do they function?
Antigens vs. Antibodies
An antigen is a molecule or molecular piece in the body that is responsible for developing antibodies, which are produced to fight disease. (Antigen stems from the term antibody generator.)
The most common antigens come from bacteria and virus cells. If the immune system recognizes antigens as harmful, the body naturally will produce antibodies to fight off these antigens.
Because tumor cells develop from inside our bodies, our immune system does not recognize them easily as an invading bacteria or virus cell. However, these tumors can still produce abnormal proteins that doctors use as tumor markers.
These markers can be detected at abnormally high levels when cancer is present. For a mesothelioma tumor antigen, the identification of specific tumor markers is one of the earliest signs of the cancer. Tests that have been developed to detect mesothelioma tumor markers include the Mesomark test and the miRview Meso test.
Antibodies are used by the immune system to locate and destroy internal threats. They are Y-shaped proteins that attach to antigens in an effort to eliminate them from the body. While tumor cells are creating antigens, the body is producing antibodies to attack them.
Research That Will Increase the Accuracy of Tumor Markers
The Anti-Malignan Antibody (AMAS) Test is a unique test that detects the presence of antibodies. Its biggest advantage is detecting cancer at an early stage of development. However, if you have a later stage of cancer, this test is less effective. The AMAS test is also limited because it cannot determine what kind of cancer you have.
Researchers are continuing to look into the structure of proteins to better understand their functionality with cancer. The main goal is to predict the effectiveness of treatment and cancer recurrence.
The Program for the Assessment of Clinical Cancer Tests (PACCT) is a current initiative that’s working to develop better infrastructure in laboratories. The purpose of this program is to create more effective tests in cancer screening, monitoring and diagnosis.
Ben Leer is an outreach coordinator with The Mesothelioma Center. He works toward increasing education and awareness of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Part of Ben's job is to reach out and engage with patients, caregivers and family members on our online communities.