Breast cancer biomarker measurements and standards


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Correspondence: Dr. Kenneth D. Cole, NIST, Mailstop 8312, 100 Bureau Drive, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899, USA


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Cancer is a heterogeneous disease characterized by changes in the levels and activities of important cellular proteins, including oncogenes and tumor suppressors. Genetic mutations cause changes in protein activity and protein expression levels that result in the altered metabolism, proliferation, and metastasis seen in cancer cells. The identification of the critical biochemical changes in cancer has led to advances in its detection and treatment. An important example of this is the measurement of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), where increased expression occurs in approximately 20–30% of breast cancer tumors. HER2 is a member of the epidermal growth factor receptor family and is an important biomarker expressed on the cell surface. Measurement of the HER2 levels in tumor cells provides diagnostic, prognostic, and treatment information, because a targeted therapeutic is available. The most common methods to measure HER2 levels are immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization assays. The accurate and reliable measurements of the specific changes in protein biomarkers for detection and treatment of cancer are important challenges. This review is focused on efforts to improve the quantitation and reliability of cancer biomarkers by using standards and reference materials.