Does the rise of tumor markers necessarily represent a tumor?

With the popularization of health examination, tumor markers begin to enter the public’s eyes. When we get the report and find one or several tumor markers rising, we will often be shocked and wonder if we have a tumor.

How high is the tumor marker?

Usually, tumor markers used for blood tests in hospitals are mainly aimed at tumors such as liver cancer, prostate cancer, intestinal cancer and lung cancer.

The increase of tumor markers is divided into two levels:

    If it slightly exceeds the normal value, it is generally considered as [slightly elevated]; What doctors often call a significant rise is a [meaningful] rise.

The following table lists the items of tumor markers commonly used in health examination, the corresponding locations where tumors may exist, the normal level of markers, and the elevated values generally considered [meaningful].

[Significant] Elevation of Normal Level of Marker Corresponding PositionAFP liver < 30 ug/L > 200 ug/LProstate specific antigen PSA < 2.6 ug/L > 4 ug/LCarcinoembryonic antigen CEA intestinal < 5.9 ug/L > 6 ug/LGlycosyl antigen CA199 pancreas < 30 KU/L > 100 KU/L

We can see that when tumor markers are slightly elevated, even if they exceed the normal level, they are not necessarily [meaningful].

In other words, it is [elevated tumor markers do not necessarily mean tumor].

What causes the increase of tumor markers?

It should be emphasized that tumor markers will also increase for people without tumors.

The slight increase in tumor markers may be due to some other non-tumor diseases in the body. For example:

    AFP level was higher than normal, It can be hepatitis, cirrhosis or pregnancy. It is not necessarily that the prostate specific antigen PSA of liver cancer is increased. It may be due to inflammation of the prostate, not necessarily the increase of carcinoembryonic antigen CEA of prostate cancer, it may be due to polyps in intestinal tract, it may also be due to smoking, not necessarily the increase of glycosyl antigen CA199 of colon cancer, it may be due to pancreatitis, cholecystitis or hepatitis, etc., not necessarily pancreatic cancer.

What should I do if I find that tumor markers are elevated?

The rise in tumor markers may be benign, such as infection, smoking, etc., or malignant tumors. There are many medical methods to help distinguish whether this rise is caused by malignant tumors, but not everyone needs further examination immediately.

1. Who needs further examination?

Who belongs to the [high-risk group] with higher possibility of tumor development?

The following three aspects can help us judge:

    Whether close relatives have tumors: The mother or other female relative in the family has a history of breast cancer, It belongs to the [high-risk group] of breast cancer. Have you ever been exposed to foreign substances that are easy to cause cancer: Long-term smoking or exposure to [second-hand smoke], alcohol abuse, consumption of pickled and smoked food, or exposure to radiation or chemical poisons due to work reasons will significantly increase the possibility of cancer. Is there any self-factors that cause the high incidence of cancer: including older age, hepatitis B, chronic atrophic gastritis, etc.

For high-risk groups with tumors, when tumor markers rise, the risk of tumors in the body is relatively high and further examination should be carried out.

We can select the corresponding examination according to the relevant parts indicated by tumor markers, including chest CT, abdominal CT, breast ultrasound, prostate ultrasound, endoscopy, etc., and seek medical treatment in tumor specialist as soon as possible.

2. Be careful of your body’s [warning signal]

It should also be reminded that even if tumor markers are completely normal, tumors cannot be absolutely excluded.

In addition to the above-mentioned judgment method of tumor [high-risk group], we also need to combine our own symptoms, which are called [alarm symptoms]. For example, long-term cough and expectoration may only be the manifestation of chronic bronchitis. However, if there is blood streak in sputum recently, or accompanied by chest pain, emaciation and other symptoms, we should be alert to the possibility of lung cancer.

When [alarm symptoms] occur, the possibility of tumor in the body increases, and you should also go to the tumor specialist for further examination in time.

3. What should I do if I do not belong to high-risk groups?

If it does not belong to the [high-risk group], there is no discomfort to the body, and the tumor marker is only slightly increased, the possibility of tumor in the body is relatively low.

We can choose to improve our lifestyle, such as quitting smoking and drinking, paying attention to diet and regular work and rest, and then review tumor markers. If necessary, we can improve the above-mentioned examination.

Responsible Editor: Jing Liu