Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)
Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a protein normally found in very low levels in the blood of adults. The CEA blood level may be increased in certain types of cancer and non-cancerous (benign) conditions. A CEA test is most commonly used for colorectal cancer.
Why a CEA test is done
A CEA test may be done:
- if the doctor suspects there may be cancer
- to find out if cancer treatment is working
- to find out if cancer has come back (recurred) after treatment
How a CEA test is done
A CEA test is usually a blood test that measures the amount of CEA protein in the blood. A sample of blood is taken by inserting a needle into the vein in your arm. No special preparation is needed.
What the results mean
An increased CEA value can occur in both cancers and non-cancerous conditions.
The CEA blood levels are often increased in colorectal cancer and may be increased in other cancers including:
After treatment, a return to a normal CEA level that had been elevated usually means that the cancer has responded to treatment.
A CEA level that rises steadily after treatment is complete often means that the cancer has come back (recurred).
The CEA blood level may be increased in non-cancerous conditions including:
- a peptic ulcer
- ulcerative colitis
- rectal polyps
- benign breast disease
- an inflammation such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
Smokers who do not have cancer can also have an increased CEA value.
What happens if the result is abnormal
The doctor will decide whether further tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatment are needed.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.