This follow-up surveillance is partly based on monitoring serum biomarkers, but only 50% of all patients have elevations of these markers. Therefore, additional costly and elaborate computer tomography and X-ray examinations are carried out which expose the young men to high radiation doses. This radiation increases the risk for the development of secondary malignancies which might be the reason for the lack of compliance of some patients. Additionally, in ambiguous cases or where compliance of the patient is not ensured chemotherapy with its strong adverse effects is preventively given. For all of these reasons, there is a great need for a better tumour marker.
The Centre for Human Genetics of the University of Bremen has been working on the mechanisms of tumorigenesis. We have studied the serum levels of a particular miRNA, called miR-371, belonging to a group of miRNAs associated with testicular germ cell cancer, and found that these are elevated in patients suffering from this kind of cancer and decline after the surgical removal of the tumour.