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Ovarian CancerBiomarkersCancer ScreeningIssue Introductions

What on Earth Is a “Biomarker”?

In her Introduction to the special edition of CONQUER titled Understanding Biomarkers & Molecular Testing, Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, ONN-CG, briefly explains what biomarkers are, why they are important, and what you should know about them.  
May 2019 Volume 5 – Biomarkers & Molecular Testing
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Co-Founder, Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators® (AONN+)
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Oncology Navigation & Survivorship®
University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer
Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Co-Developer, Work Stride: Managing Cancer at Work
Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
Breast cancer survivor
This special edition of CONQUER is truly a testament to how far we’ve come in our understanding of the treatment of cancer. We exclusively look at the topic of biomarkers and their impact on making treatment decisions. But what is a biomarker? How are they used? What is the difference between a hereditary biomarker versus a tumor-specific biomarker? Well, I’m glad you asked! We begin with an article addressing types of biomarkers. This article entitled “Understanding Hereditary Biomarkers Versus Tumor-Specific Biomarkers—What’s the Difference?” will walk you through the beginnings of precision medicine and how one-size-fits-all medicine is a thing of the past. Once we recognize cancer as a genetic disease, we can identify the biomarkers that assist your cancer team in making the appropriate treatment decisions for your specific type of cancer.

Have you heard of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations? It made big news several years ago when Angelina Jolie discovered that breast and ovarian cancer ran in her family through this genetic mutation. But it’s really important to know that not all breast cancers are caused by a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Even those people with a BRCA mutation may never develop the disease. To explain, we present “Familial Breast Cancer Risk with BRCA1 and BRCA2: What, Who, and Why?” We hope this article provides insights as to who should be tested and why these biomarkers are important.

For those with a breast cancer diagnosis, in addition to learning about BRCA1 and BRCA2, you will also hear about your ER, PR, and HER2-neu status. That’s a lot of letters to deal with! To help make sense of it all, check out our article “Alphabet Soup: ER, PR, HER2-neu—What Does It All Mean?”

Not only can biomarkers be used in determining the right type of treatment, but pathologists can use special tests to help predict if the cancer could come back. And, of course, this important information can influence treatment choices. We take a closer look at this issue in the article entitled “Testing to Avoid Treatment in Breast Cancer.”

It’s interesting to think of biomarkers as road signs that can help direct you on your cancer journey, and it’s exciting to learn about biomarkers that researchers are discovering in so many different types of cancer. For patients with multiple myeloma, we offer “A Roadmap for Multiple Myeloma: Understanding Important Biomarkers.”

Finally, we want to be sure we prepare you for your personal cancer journey beginning with those all-important appointments with your oncology teammates. Yes, I said “teammates”—because you are a critical part of that team. I want to encourage you, as part of that team, to become informed and bring your questions to your teammates. Our article “Three Questions to Ask Your Oncologist” will help you in your preparation.

On behalf of all of us at CONQUER, we wish you a successful survivorship.

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Last modified: June 17, 2019

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