Understanding Your Biomarker Test Report

You had probably never even heard of biomarkers until you faced a cancer diagnosis, but they're a very important part of treatment planning. Since every tumor has its own unique pattern of biomarkers, knowing your biomarker profile can help you and your doctor choose the right treatment for your specific tumor.

Not All States Mandate Biomarker Testing Coverage

What are biomarkers?

Biomarkers are genes, proteins, or other microscopic substances in the body that may indicate a specific condition or disease. Short for biological markers or molecular markers, biomarkers act as indicators of normal and/or abnormal processes in the body. They can also predict the response to certain therapies. 

Biomarkers include DNA, proteins, and genetic mutations found in blood, tissue, or other body fluids.

Why do I need biomarker testing?

Biomarker testing is used for the diagnosis, progression, and prognosis of cancer. It can also determine if the cancer is an inherited form or one that developed randomly.

One of the most important benefits of biomarker testing is treatment planning. Some biomarkers indicate whether a colorectal tumor is likely to respond to specific treatments. This can help your doctor build the best treatment plan for you.

If your biomarker testing reveals that your tumor has certain biomarkers, your doctor can choose treatments that are targeted to that specific type of colorectal cancer. Biomarker testing can also determine which treatments to avoid, since some cancers do not respond well to certain therapies.

Other names for biomarker testing include molecular testing, genomic testing, tumor gene testing, and mutation testing. Genetic traits can also be an important in determining a cancer diagnosis.

How are biomarkers tested?

Colorectal cancer biomarkers can be detected and measured in your body in a number of ways. The type of biomarker test you receive will depend on what your doctor decides is right for the type and stage of cancer you have.

Biomarker testing is usually done by taking a sample of your tumor (tissue biopsy) or your blood (liquid biopsy). The sample will be sent to a certified pathology laboratory where tests are done to find any abnormalities in the DNA, RNA, hormones, or proteins made by your cancer.

Understanding your biomarker test report

Biomarker test reports have different layouts and formats, but all biomarker test reports should include the following:

  • Demographic information: Your name, birthdate, medical record number, diagnosis, and the ordering doctor.
  • Specimen type: From which part of the body the specimen was taken. 
  • Test results summary: This section includes:
    • The biomarkers that are relevant to your tumor type.
    • The type of diagnostic test that was used.
    • A report of which biomarkers were detected in the testing. 

Recommended therapy options: Your report will include which FDA-approved therapeutic treatment options are recommended for your biomarker profile.

Note: Your results summary may refer to biomarkers as genomic findings.

Biomarker Report Test Basic

Biomarkers relevant to colorectal cancer

 Your biomarker testing may include all or some of the following biomarkers:

graphic of biomarkers

Will my insurance cover biomarker testing?

Coverage for your biomarker testing varies according to cancer stage, insurance policy, and in which state you live.

Private insurance and employer-sponsored health insurance companies usually cover the cost of biomarker testing if there is enough proof that the test is needed to guide treatment decisions. This policy varies from state to state. 

Biomarker testing for advanced (metastatic) colorectal cancer is typically covered by Medicare and Medicaid. If you are participating in a clinical trial, the trial may cover the cost of biomarker testing

Be sure to contact your insurance company about coverage prior to your biomarker tests. Before you call, ask your care team which specific biomarker tests they are planning to run.

Important questions to ask your insurance company:

  • Which biomarker tests are covered?
  • Do I need prior authorization for biomarker testing? 
  • Does the testing need to be performed at a specific lab in order to be covered?

Talk to your care team

Understanding biomarker testing can be challenging. When you receive your report, ask your doctor to look it over with you so they can answer any questions you have about your results and how they may affect your treatment plan. 

Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Your Colonoscopy

Questions to ask your doctor

There are important details you’ll need to understand about your biomarker report. Here are some good questions to ask your provider:

  • Did I have biomarker testing with my biopsy or surgery?
  • Did any biomarkers appear in my results?
  • If so, which ones were present and how will these results affect my treatment options?
  • Based on my results, is biomarker testing recommended for my family members?
  • Should I be re-tested if the test results were unclear or did not show biomarkers?
  • Am I eligible for any clinical trials, based on my biomarker testing results?
  • Are there financial resources available if my insurance does not cover testing?
  • How can I get a copy of my report?
man with doctor holing papers

What’s the difference between a pathology report and a biomarker test report?

A pathology report provides a diagnosis based on a pathologist’s examination of a tissue sample, such as a biopsy of the patient's tumor or blood sample. This diagnosis is made by evaluating laboratory tests,cells, tissues, and organs in the body. 

A biomarker test report provides very specific information about the type of cancer. Biomarker testing results are important because they can predict which treatments will be most effective and which ones will not. 

     Foundation Medicine                       Genentech

      Mirati Therapeutics           NeoGenomics Laboratories

Top resources