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Elevated markers

7 Mar 2018 15:49

Hi there, my mum went into hospital with chest infection and slight fluid on the lungs. She has been 9years clear of breast cancer after having a mastectomy and her lymph nodes removed. Last year she had fluid on the lungs. She also had tumor markers sent that showed elevated Ca 15 3. But nothing has shown up on the ct scan. 

My question is what does elevated Ca 15 3 mean?  Any help would be very appreciated. Thank you

Re: Elevated markers

8 Mar 2018 11:05 in response to cren81

Hello cren81,

Thank you for your post.

CA15-3 is a protein that is produced by some breast cells and can sometimes be elevated (higher) in breast cancer.  So, if it is raised it does not necessarily mean that someone’s cancer has returned but may prompt doctors to look to see if it has. This may be part of the reason why the CT scan was done and it is good to know that it did not show cancer.

I think it is important to know that fluid on the lungs can happen for many different reasons, such as infection or heart disease. It does not necessarily mean that there is cancer.  Sometimes, if there is a lot of fluid on the lungs, it can be removed, and can be tested to see if there are cancer cells in it. However for many people the underlying cause can be treated (such as infection) and the fluid is reabsorbed or excreted by the body.  Hopefully the fluid was related to infection and this has now got better.

Your mum may be followed up and if there is any concern that the cancer has come back it will be investigated. Do ask about any tests she has had and what they mean or could indicate.  I know having symptoms can be worrying, but hopefully you and your mum will be kept up to date about what is happening. 

I hope this has been helpful. Please do get back to us if you have any more questions or call us on 0808 800 4040. We are here from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Take care


Re: Elevated markers

8 Mar 2018 11:36 in response to cren81

Hi cren81.

I am not a doctor.

There are a number of these marker antigens, with names such as CA 15-3, CA 125, PSA, etc.  They all have some value in that they are a quick and easy pointers to a possible problem in a patient, but they also have the drawback that they are not specific to actual cancer. There are many other conditions that can cause one or more antigens to rise, but which aren't cancer. For example, PSA can be raised if a man has prostate cancer, but also if a man has a benign swollen prostate due to simply getting older.  

There are a number of things that can cause CA 15-3 to be elevated - including lung infections. Since your mother has a known chest infection, and has had a clear CT scan, I doubt that the doctors are concerned that this is a cancer recurrence.  It also appears that your mother is receiving appropriate teatment for her chest infection and will continue to be monitored. 

These so called "false positives" are all too common with all these antigen markers. They cause alarm in the patient, but often that alarm is unnecessary. 



Re: Elevated markers

8 Mar 2018 15:28 in response to CRUK Nurse Caroline

Thank you for your reply. The chest infection has cleared up now. But my mum is still not well. She is having trouble breathing and actually can’t move very well. It’s good to know that it is nothing to worry about just yet. I will just keep asking the questions and taking mum to the docs. 


Thank you again 

Re: Elevated markers

8 Mar 2018 15:29 in response to telemando

Thanks for your reply and I will take everything you say into consideration. I guess I just needed to hear it’s nothing to worry about and it’s not a certainty. 


Thanks again 

Re: Elevated markers

8 Mar 2018 15:39 in response to cren81

Hi again.

I'm still not a doctor! 

A chest infection is very debilitating and even when the infection is cleared, it still takes time to recover and recuperate.

And I really wouldn't worry too much about a cancer recurrence. You can never say never, but it does look unlikely, because she's been clear for 9 years, she's had a clear CT scan, and there is a plausible reason for the rise in the antigen.