Carcino Embryonic Antigen CEA

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Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a protein that is present in certain tissues of a developing baby (foetus). By the time a baby is born, it drops to a very low level. In adults, CEA is normally present at very low levels in the blood but may be elevated with certain types of cancer. This test measures the amount of CEA in the blood to help evaluate individuals diagnosed with cancer.

CEA is a tumour marker. Originally, it was thought that CEA was a specific marker for colon cancer, but further study has shown that an increase in CEA may be seen in a wide variety of other cancers. CEA can also be increased in some non-cancer-related conditions, such as inflammation, cirrhosis, peptic ulcer, ulcerative colitis, rectal polyps, emphysema, and benign breast disease, and in smokers. For this reason, it is not useful as a general cancer screening tool, but it does have a role in evaluating response to cancer treatment. When an individual has been diagnosed with cancer, an initial baseline test for CEA may be performed. If this level is elevated, then subsequent serial testing of CEA may be performed to monitor the cancer as the individual undergoes treatment.


Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a glycoprotein normally found in the embryonic endodermal epithelium.

Increased levels may be found in patients with primary colorectal cancer or other malignancies including medullary thyroid carcinoma and breast, gastrointestinal tract, liver, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostatic cancers.

Serial monitoring of CEA should begin prior to therapy to verify post therapy decrease in concentration and to establish a baseline for evaluating possible recurrence. Levels generally return to normal within 1 to 4 months after removal of cancerous tissue.


A simple blood sample is taken and sent to the lab for testing. No preparation is required. However, inform your doctor if you smoke as this can cause raised levels of CEA.


A CEA test may be ordered when a person has been diagnosed with colon cancer or other specific types of cancer. It will be measured before therapy is initiated and then on a regular basis to evaluate the success of treatment and to detect recurrence.

Sometimes a CEA test may be performed when cancer is suspected but not yet diagnosed. This is not a common use for the test because CEA can be elevated with many conditions, but it may provide a healthcare practitioner with additional information.

A CEA test may sometimes be performed on a fluid other than blood when a healthcare practitioner suspects that cancer has metastasized (e.g., spread to the pleural or peritoneal cavity).


For treatment, recurrence monitoring: When CEA levels are initially elevated and then decrease to normal after therapy, it means cancer has been successfully treated. A steadily rising CEA level is often the first sign of tumour recurrence.

For staging: On initial testing, people with smaller and early-stage tumours are likely to have a normal or only slightly elevated CEA value. People with larger tumours, later-stage cancer, or tumours that have spread throughout the body are more likely to have a high CEA value.

Testing for metastasis: If CEA is present in a body fluid other than blood, then the person's cancer is likely to have spread into that area of the body. For example, if CEA is detected in cerebrospinal fluid, this may indicate that cancer has spread to the central nervous system.

Since not all cancers produce CEA, it is possible to have cancer but also have a normal CEA. If cancer does not produce CEA, then the test will not be useful as a monitoring tool.


The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario. Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

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