Breast Cancer – Diagnostics – Characterization of tumor cells

In addition to the different types of scans, laboratory testing is an important part of the diagnostic process. It is used to investigate the characteristics of the tumor cells. The information derived from the characteristics of the tumor cell provides a “timetable” of the cancer as it reveals important indicators relating to the course of the disease. With this knowledge, a specialized, individual treatment plan can be designed.

Common indicators to characterize tumor cells:


  • Hormone receptors are connective links in or on cells that transmit signals when triggered by hormones. If present in high concentration on tumor cells, it is possible to stop the disease or prevent reoccurrence (relapse) by removing the hormone or blocking the receptors.
  • HER2 receptors (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) promote reproduction of cells. A high concentration of these receptors indicates aggressive breast cancer. Specific therapeutic options are available for HER2 positive breast cancers.
  • The HER2/neu protein is also predominantly produced by aggressive tumors. The HER2/neu protein can be detected on the surface of such tumors as well as on individual tumor cells or metastases. Some of this protein also makes its way into the blood, where it can be detected. Today, there are specific therapeutic options to treat HER2/neu positive breast cancers.
  • Blood tests results provide information about the extent to which the entire body is affected by the disease. Even organs that are not affected will be screened via blood tests because they may be adversely affected by cancer as well. Special attention is paid to blood test results when they are abnormal in detected bone and liver metastasis. High levels of calcium and a prolonged increase of the blood sedimentation rate could indicate advanced breast cancer. However, these markers alone are not entirely conclusive.
  • Biomarkers or tumor markers are molecules potentially indicative of cancer that can be found in the blood. Tumor markers are used to make decisions about treatment and follow-up after surgery and/or radiation, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy. A biomarker can also be used to determine whether a specific treatment has been successful or not. Declining levels of a biomarker indicate success.

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