Most times when I have an office visit at Dana-Farber (an appointment with the doctor, prior to receiving treatment, on scan-day, etc.) I have blood work done. Before you can receive your cancer treatment, whether it’s a chemotherapy infusion or an oral chemo/medication, you need blood work done. These tests check your white and red blood counts, platelets, liver and kidney functions, and mineral/electrolyte levels.
Oncologists also check tumor markers via blood tests. A tumor marker is a biomarker found in the blood which can be elevated by the presence of one or more cancers.
If the numbers for these tests are not in the normal range, your treatment may be delayed. For instance, if your red counts are very low, you might need a blood transfusion before you can continue treatment. If your white counts are very low, you will have to delay treatment until they rise. If this happens you often need to take Neulasta or Neupogen injections to raise the white counts.
Testing tumor markers intrigue me. Usually, when treatment is working, my tumor markers go down. When treatment stops working, my tumor markers go up, which is confirmed by scans.
My current treatment is a combination of Afinitor and Tamoxifen. I hate the side effects of this combo… but for now the scans show the combo is working. However, the tumor markers tell a different story.
My tumor markers have been very high on this treatment, which worries me. I’m due for scans in early April and am anxiously waiting for the results. My oncologist told me not to worry. The scans tell the whole truth, not the tumors markers.
On the topic of scans…I recently had a follow-up brain MRI to recheck a spot found on a previous MRI. Guess what? No one knows what the heck it is. My radiation oncologist calls it “ambiguous” due to its shape. We are taking a wait and see approach with another MRI in a month.
Oh well, I have learned there is always something when living with metastatic breast cancer. I guess this makes life exciting, but not always in a good way.