Biomarker Research for Bladder Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2023 | Last updated: February 2023

Because cancer is caused by changes in DNA and genes, current cancer research is largely focused on understanding those changes. Scientists have found that there are certain gene changes that occur in a wide variety of cancers. There are also some gene changes that occur mainly in specific types of cancer. Advanced cancer therapies focus on slowing tumor growth by targeting these changes.1

What are biomarkers?

The DNA changes (mutations) that happen with cancer can cause the body to make new, different, or large amounts of certain molecules. These molecules are called biomarkers. They are often found in bodily fluids like blood, urine, and saliva.1

As scientists learn which gene mutations are related to each type of cancer, they hope to discover more biomarkers. Then, they could measure these molecules to diagnose cancer or to see if treatment is working.1

The benefit of biomarkers

Bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the world. The best way to diagnose and track bladder cancer right now is through invasive or expensive testing like cystoscopies and bladder cytology. A cystoscopy is a way to look in the bladder by placing a small camera in the urethra. Bladder cytology involves looking at cells from the bladder under a microscope.2

Neither method is perfect for diagnosing bladder cancer. If doctors could diagnose bladder cancer and to track how treatment was working using biomarkers, there may be less need for these invasive tests.3

Why are researchers studying biomarkers?

Through research, experts hope that they can collect enough data to use urine tests for diagnosis and treatment. This will allow doctors to cut back on the more invasive and expensive cystoscopy and bladder cytology tests.1

They also hope to learn more about how each type of bladder cancer works so they can use biomarkers to identify what kind of bladder cancer a person has. This will help doctors choose the correct treatment for each person.1

Finally, researchers hope to find a biomarker that can be measured to see if a treatment is working.1

Currently, there is not enough evidence about specific biomarkers to use them in place of other testing. However, experts are still collecting more data.3

Specific research on biomarkers and bladder cancer

There are a few urine biomarker tests that have had promising results so far. One promising new technique is called a liquid biopsy. It involves looking for biomarkers in urine. It is a painless, quick, and non-invasive test. Urine tests can be especially useful for bladder cancers because urine is stored next to the tumors, where it can pick up biomarkers.3

Researchers are studying many biomarkers in the urine right now. For example, methylation is a process that normally happens to DNA to change it. In cancer, there is too much methylation. Early studies have shown that DNA found in urine that is more methylated than usual could be a good indicator of cancer.3

Also, DNA acts as a recipe to tell the body what proteins to make. When DNA changes in cancer, the recipe changes too. This means that the body will create a slightly different protein. Researchers are looking into whether modified proteins can be found in urine and used to diagnose and monitor bladder cancer.3

In addition, when the body is breaking down certain substances, the substances left over are called metabolites. Early studies show that those living with bladder cancer have different metabolites in their urine than those without bladder cancer. Scientists hope to measure these metabolites as biomarkers.3

While this research is early, finding useful biomarkers is a real opportunity that can develop further. If you have questions about bladder cancer or about biomarker testing, talk to your doctor.

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