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Precision medicine, or personalized medicine, is a rapidly growing field. This approach to medicine uses a person’s unique genetic and environmental information to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Precision medicine extends to oncology as well, whereby providers uses biomarkers, or biological signatures found in the body, to inform cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment planning. 1, 2

Cancer biomarkers comprise specific proteins, receptors, hormones, and enzymes, many of which may exist in a healthy body irrespective of malignancies. Therefore, it is often changes observed in these biomarkers that serve as important reference points in cancer care. In addition, many cancer biomarkers derive from genetic mutations, including sporadic (somatic) and/or hereditary (germline) mutations.

These nuances have led to an ever-growing field of innovations, tests, and therapies that aim to leverage biomarkers in improving cancer care delivery and outcomes. As a result, the application of cancer biomarkers can be extensive and complex depending on tumor type and or a provider’s clinical discipline. This lexicon provides a comprehensive guide to biomarker terminology as related to oncology to empower the multidisciplinary cancer care team as this approach to cancer care continues to evolve.

Click on the tabs below to explore the many terms associated with the different areas, or applications, of cancer biomarkers.


Any molecule that can be measured in blood, other bodily fluids, or tissues. In oncology, a biomarker can indicate cancer type, how the cancer will progress if left untreated, which treatment might be most effective, and how well treatment is working over time.2

Also called: Molecular marker, Tumor marker

Precision Medicine

A form of medicine that uses information about an individual’s genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. In oncology, precision medicine uses specific information found on cancer cells to inform diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plans.1

Also called: Personalized medicine

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logo-abbvie-200x80 AstraZeneca_200x80 This project is supported by AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Lilly Oncology, and Merck & Co., Inc. BMS-330x80 Phase one of this project was supported by Bristol Myers Squibb.