The word 'biomarker' is short for 'biological marker', or indicator. It could be a change in a gene in the tumour's DNA, or it could be a molecule produced by the tumour. The presence or absence of particular gene changes or molecules (biomarkers) can give your health team more information about your tumour.

As a result, if you have a brain tumour, a biomarker test may be used to look at genes associated with your type of tumour. Biomarker tests are only suitable for some brain tumour types.

These tests may be helpful in:

  • diagnosing your tumour i.e. what type of brain tumour it is
  • predicting the speed at which your tumour will grow
  • predicting how well you may respond to certain treatments
  • finding out whether you are suitable for a particular clinical trial
  • planning appropriate and individual treatment

It is very important to know that biomarkers are not treatments and that research is still in early stages.

The main tests for brain tumours

The Brain Tumour Charity's research funding has contributed to the development of these tests.

MGMT methylation test

The MGMT methylation test can be useful in:

  • predicting how effective chemotherapy treatment is likely to be for you.

Your tumour may be suitable for this test if it is one of the following:

  • Anaplastic glioma
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma
  • Anaplastic oligodendroglia
  • Anaplastic oligoastrocytoma
  • Glioblastoma

1p/19q test

The 1p/19q test may be useful in:

  • diagnosing some types of brain tumours
  • predict long-term survival in some types of brain tumour

Your tumour may be suitable for this test if it is one of the following:

  • Oligodendroglia
  • Anaplastic oligodendroglioma
  • Oligoastrocytoma
  • Anaplastic oligoastrocytoma

IDH-1 test

The IDH-1 test may be of use in:

  • predicting long-term survival in some types of brain tumour.
  • predicting how effective a particular treatment is likely to be.

BRAF test

The BRAF test (along with other investigations) can sometimes help to:

  • determine, if there is uncertainty, whether a tumour is a pilocytic astrocytoma (a type of grade 1 tumour) rather than another type of (nonpilocytic) astrocytoma.,

How can I get a biomarker test?

In some hospitals biomarker testing is now done routinely (where appropriate to the tumour type).

If your hospital does not do this and you are interested in having a test, speak to your neuro-oncologist, who will be able to tell if it is suitable for you and, if so, may be able to arrange for a test at another hospital. It is important to note that the tests will not necessarily influence your treatment plan at the hospital you attend.

The tests can only be carried out once you have had a biopsy and the biopsy material has been analysed. It does not matter how long ago the biopsy was performed, so old samples can be used.

Before you have the test or ask for the result, it is worth thinking about what the results might reveal and whether you want to know the result.

Page last reviewed: 03/2014
Next review due: currently under review

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