Micromarkers: miRNAs in cancer diagnosis and prognosis

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Molecular diagnostics in cancer should provide the highest specificity and sensitivity in classification, prognostic stratification and early detection. miRNAs could contribute to hitting the mark, or at least to come nearer, by virtue of their cancer-specific expression and stability. Indeed, different to other RNA classes, miRNAs can be detected and quantified not only in frozen tissues, but also in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues, as well as serum/plasma samples. Thus, miRNA studies have quickly moved from research on the molecular basis of cancer to areas of clinical application. This review summarizes the potential role of miRNAs as molecular markers for cancer classification, prognostic stratification and drug-response prediction. It also summarizes their potential as circulating markers and cancer-predisposing genes. If we consider that studies on miRNAs in cancer therapy have already given important contributions, miRNAs have an impact in all cancer areas. Whether this will translate into clinical applications is still too early to say. However, in the diagnostic field, miRNAs may already represent an improvement over presently available approaches; for example, their expression profile is effective in the identification of tissue of origin of metastasis. In addition, circulating miRNAs are expected to provide improved specificity and/or sensitivity over presently available markers.

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