If you’ve recently been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma or metastatic colorectal cancer, chances are you’ve had to familiarize yourself with a lot of new terms and complicated concepts. One term you may not have heard before is “biomarker.” As researchers learn more about how cancer cells develop, grow, and spread, more attention is being paid to the role biomarkers play in these processes. For patients, undergoing biomarker testing helps their doctor/healthcare team determine whether or not their cancer was potentially caused by a specific gene mutation.
What is a Biomarker?
A biomarker is a biological, chemical, or biophysical entity that is present in tumor tissues or body fluids.[i]It can be used to:
- Provide information on whether a disease or condition is present
- Provide information about the characteristics of a disease or condition
- Potentially provide some insight into what treatments may be appropriate for the specific type of cancer.
Mutations in Metastatic Melanoma and Metastatic Colorectal Cancer (CRC)
- There are many types of cancer biomarkers, including genetic mutations that can affect how cancer cells grow, multiply and die. In melanoma and CRC, some mutations include KRAS, NRAS, and BRAF. These mutations are typically seen in patients with metastatic disease or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.[ii],[iii]
- The frequency of these mutations varies widely.
- KRAS is the most frequently altered gene across all cancer types, with approximately 30%-40% of CRC cases carrying a KRAS mutation.[iv]
- NRAS is the second most common oncogenic driver in melanoma and is altered in 15%-20% of melanoma patients.[v]
- The BRAF mutation is estimated to occur in approximately 50% of people with metastatic melanoma and up to 15% of people with metastatic CRC.[vi],[vii],[viii],[ix],[x],[xi],[xii],[xiii]
- Like in most cancers, mutations in melanoma and CRC may increase the growth and spread of cancer cells and can inform prognosis.
What is Biomarker Testing and Why is it Important?
Thanks to ongoing scientific research, doctors now know that certain cancers may be the result of mutations, or changes, that occur in certain genes, which can affect the instructions for cells to grow and divide. Biomarkers can be identified through the process of biomarker testing: a series of tests that evaluate whether cancer-causing mutations may exist.
Biomarker testing helps identify therapies that may be appropriate for a particular patient and may also provide an indication of aggressive disease or prognosis.
To learn more about the importance of biomarker testing in metastatic melanoma and metastatic CRC, watch our Facebook Live episode: