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Hormones as Tumor Markers

Because hormones produced by malignant tumors are often able to be identified and quantified by immunoassays designed to measure normally-produced hormones, elevation of a given hormone is not considered diagnostic of a specific tumor. While these assays are highly sensitive, their lack of specificity limits their utility as a screening tool.
HormoneType of CancerComments
Adrenocorticotropic hormone
(ACTH)
Lung (small cell)ACTH normally produced by the corticotropic cells of the anterior pituitary. May be accompanied with excessive production of cortisol usually associated with Cushing’s syndrome.
Antidiuretic hormone (ADH)
Lung (small cell), adrenal cortex, pancreatic, intestine ADH helps to regulate water balance in the blood. Normally ADH is elevated in response to high blood osmolality. Measuring ADH in reference to plasma osmolality increases its sensitivity as a tumor marker.
CalcitoninThyroid, lung, breast, renal, liverNormally secreted in response to increased serum calcium to inhibit release of calcium from bone.
GastrinGastrinomaFasting plasma gastrin is often greatly increased to several times the upper limit of normal. Considered diagnostic as a tumor marker when elevated 10 times the upper limit of normal in the presence of gastric hypersecretion.
GlucagonGlucagonoma (islet-cell pancreatic tumor Highly metastatic. Sustained elevated glucose levels as glucagon produced is not under control of feedback mechanisms.
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)Embryonal, placenta, testicular, choriocarcinomaNormally elevated during pregnancy. hCG is produced and is highly elevated in trophoblastic or chorionic tumors of embryonic cell origin.
InsulinInsulinomaSustained increased insulin levels even in fasting state. Insulin-producing tumors are typically non-malignant.
Parathyroid hormone (PTH)Liver, renal, breast, lungEctopic PTH-producing adenomas are rare, but produce PTH in excess which leads to hypercalcemia.
ProlactinPituitary, renal, lungProlactinomas are common, but benign pituitary tumors. Ectopic prolactin-producing carcinomas are very rare.