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Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)
Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a protein normally found in the tissue of a developing fetus. Levels of CEA in the blood decrease after birth. CEA is normally found in small amounts in the blood of most healthy people.
Why a CEA test is done
A CEA test may be done to:
- help diagnose and monitor a person’s response to treatment for certain cancers
- It is most commonly used for colorectal cancer.
- CEA may also be used for the following cancers:
- check if a cancer has come back (recurred)
How a CEA test is done
A CEA test is usually done in a private laboratory or hospital laboratory. No special preparation is usually needed.
- CEA is usually measured by a blood test.
- The sample is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed by special machines.
What the results mean
An increased CEA value may be due to:
- Smokers who do not have cancer can have an increased CEA value.
- non-cancerous conditions
- inflammatory bowel disease (such as colitis)
- benign breast disease
- benign ovarian disease
- inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- liver disease (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis)
- chronic lung disease
- cancerous conditions
- colorectal cancer
- breast cancer
- lung cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- stomach cancer
- ovarian cancer
- bladder cancer
- thyroid cancer
- liver cancer
In cancerous conditions:
- A decrease in, or return to normal values of, CEA may mean that the cancer has responded well to treatment.
- An increase may mean that the cancer is not responding well to treatment, is still growing or is coming back (recurring).
- A slight increase may not be significant. Usually the doctor looks at trends in the increase over time.
What happens if a change or abnormality is found
The doctor will decide if more tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatment is needed.
Facing the financial burden of cancer
The Canadian Cancer Society provides helpful information about government income programs, financial resources and other resources available to families struggling to make sense of the personal financial burden they face.