Tumor markers and drug targeting

Tumor markers are substances that are produced by cancer or by other cells of the body in response to cancer or certain benign (noncancerous) conditions. Most tumor markers are made by normal cells as well as by cancer cells; however, they are produced at much higher levels in cancerous conditions. These substances can be found in the blood, urine, stool, tumor tissue, or other tissues or bodily fluids of some patients with cancer. Most tumor markers are proteins. Thus far, more than 20 different tumor markers have been characterized and are in clinical use. Some are associated with only one type of cancer, whereas others are associated with two or more cancer types. There is no “universal” tumor marker that can detect any type of cancer. Among various approaches to specifically target drug-loaded carrier systems to required pathological sites in the body, two seem to be most advanced – passive (EPR effect-mediated) targeting, based on the longevity of the pharmaceutical carrier in the blood and its accumulation in pathological sites with compromised vasculature, and active targeting, based on the attachment of specific ligands to the surface of pharmaceutical carriers to recognize and bind pathological cells.

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