Tumour markers have no established role in the monitoring of the course of metastatic breast cancer during antineoplastic therapy, yet cancer antigen 15.3 (CA15.3) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) are commonly used in clinical practice to aid in the early detection of progression of disease (PD). In our multicentre, prospective, real-life study, we enrolled 142 consecutive patients with advanced breast cancer receiving endocrine therapy in combination with a CDK4/6 inhibitor from January 2017 to October 2020; 75 patients had PD at the time of database closure. We measured serum marker concentrations at regular 4-month intervals together with radiological tumour response assessments and in cases of clinical suspicion of PD. Appropriate descriptive and inferential statistical methods were used to analyse serum marker level trends amongst prespecified subgroups and at specific time points (baseline, best radiologically documented tumour response and first detection of PD) in the subpopulation of patients with PD at the time of database closure. Notably, the median time from treatment initiation to best tumour response was 4.4 months. We evaluated the presence of an association between baseline CA15.3 and CEA levels and prespecified clinical characteristics but found no clinically meaningful correlation. We assessed marker level variations at the time of best radiologically documented disease response and PD: in the subgroup of patients who responded to treatment before progressing, we detected a statistically significant correlation with tumour marker variation between the time of best response and progression; this finding was not confirmed in the subgroup of patients that did not benefit from treatment. In conclusion, serum tumour marker flares can be useful in the early diagnosis of PD but should not be used as the sole factor prompting a change in treatment strategy without radiological confirmation.
This article is part of the Tackling clinical complexity in breast cancer Special Issue: https://www.drugsincontext.com/special_issues/tackling-clinical-complexity-in-breast-cancer/