What is CEA?
CEA stands for carcinoembryonic antigen. CEA is a substance found on the surface of some cells. It is a type of glycoprotein produced by cells of the gastrointestinal tract during embryonic development. It is produced in very small amounts after birth. The level of CEA in the bloodstream is thus relatively low unless certain diseases - including certain forms of cancer - are present.
How is CEA measured?
CEA is most frequently tested in blood. It can also be tested in body fluids and in biopsy tissue.
What is the normal range for CEA blood levels?
The normal range for CEA in an adult non-smoker is <2.5 ng/ml and for a smoker <5.0 ng/ml.
How is the CEA test used?
The best use of CEA is as a tumor marker, especially for cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. When the CEA level is abnormally high before surgery or other treatment, it is expected to fall to normal following successful surgery to remove all of the cancer. A rising CEA level indicates progression or recurrence of the cancer. This must be confirmed , as the CEA test by itself is not specific enough to substantiate a recurrence of a cancer. In addition, levels >20 ng/ml before therapy may be associated with cancer which has already spread (metastatic disease).
What conditions can cause an elevated CEA?
Both benign (harmless) and malignant (cancerous) conditions can increase the CEA level. The most frequent cancer which causes an increased CEA is cancer of the colon and rectum. Others include cancers of the pancreas, stomach, breast, lung, and medullary carcinoma of the thyroid and ovarian cancer. Benign conditions which can elevate CEA include smoking, infections, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and some benign tumors in the same organs in which an elevated CEA indicates cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause a temporary rise in CEA due to the death of tumor cells and release of CEA into the blood stream. Changing levels of CEA during cancer treatment must always be correlated with other clinical findings. While worrisome, changes in CEA are not diagnostic of cancer progression on their own.
What are the limitations of CEA testing?
CEA is not an effective screening test for hidden (occult) cancer since early tumors may not cause significant blood elevations. Also, many tumors never cause an abnormal blood level, even in advanced disease. Because there is variability between results obtained between laboratories, the same laboratory should do repeat testing when monitoring a patient with cancer.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
"CEA Blood Test" National Institutes of Health
Top Carcinoembryonic Antigen Related Articles
CancerCancer is a disease caused by an abnormal growth of cells, also called malignancy. It is a group of 100 different diseases, and is not contagious. Cancer can be treated through chemotherapy, a treatment of drugs that destroy cancer cells.
Cancer DetectionCancer detection are methods used to find cancer in persons who may or may not have symptoms. Symptoms of cancer are abnormal sensations or conditions that persons can notice that are a result of the cancer. It is important to your doctor for regular checkups and not wait for problems to occur.
Colon CancerColon cancer (bowel cancer) is a malignancy that arises from the inner lining of the colon. Most, if not all, of these cancers develop from colonic polyps. Removal of these precancerous polyps can prevent colon cancer.
Conception SlideshowLearn about conception and the beginning stages of fetal development. See microscope images of human egg and sperm, as well as cell division and embryos.
ELISA TestsELISA stands for "enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay." This is a rapid immunochemical test that involves an enzyme (a protein that catalyzes a biochemical reaction). It also involves an antibody or antigen (immunologic molecules).
Gallbladder CancerGallbladder cancer is a rare form of cancer with symptoms that include jaundice, abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal lumps, and bloating. Risk factors include being female and Native American. Treatment of gallbladder cancer depends upon the stage of the cancer, the type of gallbladder cancer, and whether the cancer can be removed by surgery.
Pancreatic cysts are collections of fluid within the pancreas. Some are benign, malignant, or pseudocysts. There are two major types of pancreatic cysts, 1) pseudocysts (inflammatory) and 2) true cysts (non-inflammatory). Symptoms of pancreatic cysts include abdominal pain, jaundice, fever, chills, and sepsis. Treatment depends on the type of cyst, and patient health.
Smoking and Quitting SmokingSmoking is an addiction. More than 430,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from smoking related illnesses. Secondhand smoke or "passive smoke" also harm family members, coworkers, and others around smokers. There are a number of techniques available to assist people who want to quit smoking.
Thyroid SlideshowLearn about thyroid problems such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer, and more. Discover symptoms and treatments for various thyroid problems.
Thyroid QuizYour unexplained change in weight could indicate a thyroid condition. Take the Thyroid Quiz to learn about common symptoms and treatments of overactive and underactive thyroid disorders.