What are the guidelines for the use of tumor markers in pancreatic cancer?

Updated: Oct 02, 2020
  • Author: Tomislav Dragovich, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
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In its 2006 update, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) expanded the scope of the guidelines for use of tumor markers in gastrointestinal cancer to include CA 19-9 as a marker for pancreatic cancer. The recommendations for evaluation of CA 19-9 levels are as follows [44] :

  • CA 19-9 is least sensitive for small, early-stage pancreatic carcinomas and thus is not effective for the early detection of pancreatic cancer or as a screening tool

  • Use of CA 19-9 levels alone is not recommended for use in determining operability

  • Rising levels of CA 19-9 postoperatively may predict recurrent disease, but confirmation with imaging studies and/or biopsy is required.

  • CA 19-9 can be measured at the start of treatment for locally advanced metastatic disease and every 1-3 months during active treatment; elevation of levels in serial determinations may be an indication of progressive disease, but confirmation with other studies is required

  • 5-10% of patients lack the enzyme necessary to produce CA 19-9; in these patients with low or absent titer of CA 19-9, monitoring disease with this tumor marker will not be possible

Both the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer recommend the measurement of serum CA 19-9 levels after surgery and before adjuvant therapy to guide treatment and follow up. [63, 2]

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