What are Tumor Antigens?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
One-third of the world's population doesn't have access to a suitable toilet; more people have mobile phone access.  more...

November 16 ,  1933 :  Diplomatic relations between the US and the Soviet Union were established.  more...

Tumor antigens are abnormal proteins produced by cancerous cells. The body of the host reacts to these antigens, recognizing them as abnormal. There are a number of potential applications for tumor antigens, which range from testing for certain antigens to learn more about a tumor to developing vaccines for certain types of cancers. A number of cancer researchers study these antigens to learn more about how they form and function.

In a healthy human body, the immune system has learned to ignore proteins which are normally found in the body, and to attack proteins which appear to be foreign in nature. In the case of tumor antigens, normal cells become mutated and start growing out of control, and the mutation can lead to the development of abnormal proteins which can be seen and attacked by the immune system. While the immune system cannot necessarily kill all of the abnormal cells off, it may cause inflammation and associated issues around the site of the tumorous growth.

Some antigens are tumor-specific, associated only with tumorous growths. Others are tumor-associated, which means that they can occur in tumors, or in regular cells. Using known antigens, a doctor can test tumorous growths to learn more about them and where they originated by looking for particular antigens of interest. Researchers also study tumors with the goal of identifying new antigens which can be used in testing and diagnosis.


One potential application for tumor antigens is in cancer treatment. Using tumor-specific antigens, a treatment could be developed to target those antigens, allowing a doctor to deliver a dose of medication directly to the tumor without damaging other parts of the body. Because many cancer treatments are highly destructive and indiscriminate, a targeted medication could make a huge difference in cancer treatment by being more effective and less damaging to the patient, reducing side effects from the medication.

Tumor antigens could also potentially be used in the development of vaccines for specific types of cancers. Vaccines work by exposing the body to a controlled dose of an antigen, allowing the immune system to develop antibodies which will attack that antigen if it is detected in the future. Tumor antigens could be used in the same way, teaching the body to attack and kills cancerous cells if it identifies them. Because cancers are so variable, it would not be possible to create a single vaccine to protect against all tumors, but specific common tumors could be targeted with various vaccines.


You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 3

I had breast cancer, but it was caught very early, so I had a very small lumpectomy, clean borders, stage 1a. Now my blood work is showing a high CEA level. However, I've had an MRI, a CAT scan and a PET CT, which showed no sign of a tumor. I have SLE, and my body has been attacking healthy tissue for years, thinking it's 'invading'. So, I'm wondering if this would make the CEA level less important in the grand scheme of things. Any thoughts? I want off cancer island. Enough testing already.

Post 2

@Sinbad - Based on what I know, I think this article was referring to the organ that is hosting the tumor and therefore the antigens. So for example, I think that in breast cancer the breast would be considered the body of the host, because the breast would be reacting to the cancer cells?

That's what makes sense to me, but don't quote me on it, and then of course, it is a completely different story as far as the body of the host if the breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Post 1

I just started learning about tumor antigens so that may be why I didn't understand what the article was referring to with "the body of the host."

What is the body of the host? Is referring to some sort of area, maybe an organ that is hosting the antigens or is that just another way to say the person's actual "body"?

I find it fascinating that these cells make abnormal proteins and that are body can recognize them as abnormal. And even more fascinating that we can learn more about a tumor via the associated antigens.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?