Standard Article


Environmental Health

  1. Sally W. Thurston

Published Online: 15 JAN 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9780470057339.vab019.pub2

Encyclopedia of Environmetrics

Encyclopedia of Environmetrics

How to Cite

Thurston, S. W. 2013. Biomarkers . Encyclopedia of Environmetrics. 1.

Author Information

  1. University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JAN 2013


Biomarkers are cellular, biochemical, or molecular changes in a biological system. Biomarkers are often broadly classified as markers of exposure (either of internal dose or of the biologically effective dose), markers of preclinical biological effects, markers of susceptibility, or markers of disease. Biomarkers of exposure that are known to be on the causal pathway to cancer have been used to help identify environmental carcinogens. Biomarkers of disease are often associated with a premalignant condition, but recently epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation have been proposed as disease biomarkers. Markers of susceptibility include genetic polymorphisms that affect the probability of proceeding from one disease state to the next. Challenges in using biomarkers in cancer research include the inability to measure biomarker levels in the target tissue of controls, and the possibility that the disease process may alter biomarker levels. Established and well-validated biomarkers, as well as new biomarkers, hold promise for a better understanding of the cancer process and for identifying individuals at increased cancer risk.


  • biologically effective dose;
  • cancer risk;
  • cellular target;
  • environmental carcinogens;
  • epigenetic changes;
  • markers of susceptibility;
  • molecular epidemiology