CEA Test: MedlinePlus Medical Test (2023)

What is a CEA test?

CEA stands for carcinoembryonic antigen. It is a protein found in the tissues of a developing baby. CEA levels normally become very low or disappear after birth. Healthy adults should have very little or no CEA in their body.

This test measures the amount of CEA in the blood, and sometimes in other body fluids. CEA is a type of tumor marker. Tumor markers are substances made by cancer cells or by normal cells in response to cancer in the body.

A high level of CEA can be a sign of certain types of cancers. These include cancers of the colon and rectum, prostate, ovary, lung, thyroid, or liver. High CEA levels may also be a sign of some noncancerous conditions, such as cirrhosis, noncancerous breast disease, and emphysema.

A CEA test can't tell you what kind of cancer you have, or even whether you have cancer. So the test is not used for cancer screening or diagnosis. But if you've already been diagnosed with cancer, a CEA test can help monitor the effectiveness of your treatment and/or help find out if the disease has spread to other parts of your body.

(Video) Carcinoembryonic Antigen Test | CEA Blood Test | Tumor Marker

Other names: CEA assay, CEA blood test, carcinoembryonic antigen test

What is it used for?

A CEA test may be used to:

  • Monitor treatment of people with certain types of cancers. These include colon cancer and cancers of the rectum, prostate, ovary, lung, thyroid, and liver.
  • Figure out the stage of your cancer. This means checking the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread.
  • See if cancer has returned after treatment.

Why do I need a CEA test?

You may need this test if you've been diagnosed with cancer. Your health care provider may test you before you start treatment, and then regularly throughout the course of your therapy. This can help your provider see how well your treatment is working. You may also get a CEA test after you've completed treatment. The test can help show whether the cancer has come back.

(Video) CEA blood testing of questionable benefit to colorectal cancer surveillance - Tiffany Tsang

What happens during a CEA test?

CEA is usually measured in the blood. During a CEA blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

Sometimes, CEA is tested in the spinal fluid or from fluid in the abdominal wall. For these tests, your provider will remove a small sample of fluid using a thin needle and/or syringe. The following fluids may be tested:

  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear, colorless liquid found in the spinal cord
  • Peritoneal fluid, a fluid that lines your abdominal wall
  • Pleural fluid, a liquid inside your chest cavity that covers the outside of each lung

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don't need any special preparations for a CEA blood test or a pleural fluid test.

(Video) WHAT IS CEA BLOOD TEST?: Carcinoembryonic Antigen Test Levels- CEA Blood Test Meaning

You may be asked to empty your bladder and bowels before a CSF or peritoneal fluid test.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is very little risk to having a CEA blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

CEA tests of body fluids are usually very safe. Serious problems are rare. But you may experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • If you had a CSF test, you may feel some pain or tenderness in your back at the site where the needle was inserted. Some people get a headache after the test. This is called a post-lumbar headache.
  • If you had a peritoneal fluid test, you may feel a little dizzy or lightheaded after the procedure. There is a small risk of damage to the bowel or bladder, which may cause an infection.
  • If you had a pleural fluid test, there is a small risk of lung damage, infection, or blood loss.

What do the results mean?

If you were tested before you started treatment for cancer, your results may show:

  • A low level of CEA. This may mean your tumor is small and the cancer has not spread to other parts of your body.
  • A high level of CEA. This may mean you have a larger tumor and/or your cancer may have spread.

If you are being treated for cancer, you may be tested several times throughout treatment. These results may show:

  • Your levels of CEA started high and remained high. This may mean your cancer is not responding to treatment.
  • Your levels of CEA started high but then decreased. This may mean your treatment is working.
  • Your CEA levels decreased, but then later increased. This may mean your cancer has come back after you've been treated.

If you had a test on a body fluid (CSF, peritoneal, or pleural), a high level of CEA may mean the cancer has spread to that area.

If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.

Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.

(Video) CEA Test || Carcinoembryonic Antigen

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Is there anything else I need to know about a CEA test?

Many cancers don't produce CEA. If your CEA results were normal, you may still have cancer. Also, high levels of CEA can be sign of a noncancerous health condition. In addition, people who smoke cigarettes often have higher than normal CEA levels.

References

  1. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA); [updated 2018 Feb 12; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/carcinoembryonic-antigen-cea
  2. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis (CSF); [updated 2018 Sep 12; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/cerebrospinal-fluid-csf-analysis
  3. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Peritoneal Fluid Analysis; [updated 2018 Sep 28; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/peritoneal-fluid-analysis
  4. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Pleural Fluid Analysis; [updated 2017 Nov 14; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/pleural-fluid-analysis
  5. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2018. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): About; 2018 Apr 24 [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/lumbar-puncture/about/pac-20394631
  6. Mayo Clinic: Mayo Medical Laboratories [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1995–2018. Test ID: CEA: Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA), Serum: Overview; [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-catalog/Overview/8521
  7. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2018. Diagnosis of Cancer; [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/cancer/overview-of-cancer/diagnosis-of-cancer
  8. National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: carcinoembryonic antigen; [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/carcinoembryonic-antigen
  9. National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Tumor Markers; [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis/tumor-markers-fact-sheet
  10. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Blood Tests; [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-tests
  11. UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida Health; c2018. CEA blood test: Overview; [updated 2018 Dec 17; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/cea-blood-test
  12. UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida Health; c2018. Peritoneal fluid analysis: Overview; [updated 2018 Dec 17; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/peritoneal-fluid-analysis
  13. UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida Health; c2018. Pleural fluid analysis: Overview; [updated 2018 Dec 17; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/pleural-fluid-analysis
  14. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2018. Health Encyclopedia: Carcinoembryonic Antigen; [cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=carcinoembryonic_antigen
  15. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Health Information: Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA): Results; [updated 2018 Mar 28; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 8 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/carcinoembryonic-antigen-cea/hw3988.html#hw4014
  16. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Health Information: Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA): Test Overview; [updated 2018 Mar 28; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/carcinoembryonic-antigen-cea/hw3988.html
  17. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Health Information: Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA): What to Think About; [updated 2018 Mar 28; cited 2018 Dec 17]; [about 10 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/carcinoembryonic-antigen-cea/hw3988.html#hw4027

FAQs

What is a CEA medical test? ›

The carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) test measures the level of CEA in the blood. CEA is a protein normally found in the tissue of a developing baby in the womb. The blood level of this protein disappears or becomes very low after birth. In adults, an abnormal level of CEA may be a sign of cancer.

Does CEA mean you have cancer? ›

A high level of CEA can be a sign of certain types of cancers. These include cancers of the colon and rectum, prostate, ovary, lung, thyroid, or liver. High CEA levels may also be a sign of some noncancerous conditions, such as cirrhosis, noncancerous breast disease, and emphysema.

Does normal CEA mean no cancer? ›

A normal result is typically less than 2.5 nanograms per milliliter. Results might vary between labs. A higher-than-normal CEA level that increases over time might signal that your cancer has grown or has come back after treatment. But high levels of CEA do not always mean you have cancer.

Why is CEA high without cancer? ›

Higher than normal CEA level alone cannot diagnose a new cancer. Further testing is needed. An increased CEA level may also be due to: Liver and gallbladder problems, such as scarring of the liver ( cirrhosis ), or gallbladder inflammation ( cholecystitis )

What is normal CEA level? ›

What is a normal CEA level? CEA is typically reported in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). The reference range is 0-2.9 ng/mL of blood. Generally, healthcare providers consider typical CEA levels to be between 0 and 2.9 ng/mL.

What is the cost of CEA test? ›

The cost of CEA Test in India varies from ₹ 385 to ₹ 520 in 20 cities of India.

What type of cancer is CEA most useful for? ›

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.

Is CEA curable? ›

CEA levels will generally return to normal between one and four months after the cancer has been successfully removed. Learn about emerging research, nutrition, prevention, chemo, and more — to support you through your cancer care journey.

Can CEA detect liver cancer? ›

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is expressed in most gastrointestinal, breast, and lung cancer cells. Overexpression of CEA is closely associated with liver metastasis, which is the main cause of death from colorectal cancer. CEA is widely used as a diagnostic and prognostic tumor marker in cancer patients.

Can CEA detect colon cancer? ›

Serial CEA measurements can detect recurrent colorectal cancer with a sensitivity of approximately 80%, a specificity of approximately 70%, and can provide a lead time of approximately 5 months.

What level of CEA indicates colon cancer? ›

A CEA value of greater than 8 ng/ml was highly suggestive of residual disease or recurrence, even when no clinical evidence was present. Approximately 90% of the patients dying from colorectal cancer showed an increase in CEA to greater than 8 ng/ml during the course of the disease.

Can CEA detect kidney cancer? ›

As presently constituted, the CEA test is not accurate for the diagnosis or prognosis of renal cell carcinoma.

How can I lower my CEA? ›

Thus, we suggest that exercise for 2-3 days per week decreases the expression of CEA and improves body condition, without loading fatigue or stress, which may contribute to preventing cancer in the elderly women.

Can stress cause CEA to rise? ›

Our findings clearly indicated that immobilization stress results in enhanced serum CEA level whether the stress is acute or chronic. Consistent with our finding, there are reports suggesting that stress can increase tumor growth and tumor marker expression [26, 27].

Does CEA increase with age? ›

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), a serological marker of malignant tumors, demonstrates a modest increase under nonmalignant conditions such as aging and smoking.

How long does it take for CEA to return to normal? ›

Patients with metastasis often have particularly high serum CEA levels [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. Serum CEA has a half-life of 3–5 days, and serum CEA levels have been reported to decrease to the normal range from 2 weeks to 1 month after curative resection [5, 10, 11, 12, 13].

What does a CEA level of 500 mean? ›

CEA levels greater than 271 ng/ml are significant for advanced tumor size, advanced tumor staging, metastasis to the contralateral neck compartment, and decreased chance of biochemical cure. CEA levels greater than 500 ng/ml are greatly associated with patient mortality.

Is a CEA level of 15 high? ›

False-positive CEA test results in the range of 5 to 15 ng/mL are common. Confirmation of CEA elevation in this range before initiating imaging studies may be appropriate. False-positive results greater than 15 ng/mL are rare, and all confirmed CEA levels greater than 35 ng/mL were associated with cancer recurrence.

Is CEA a fasting test? ›

No fasting is required with a CEA blood test, which means there's no preparation needed on your part.

Is CEA blood test fasting? ›

This CEA Blood Test measures the protein in the blood called carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). This protein can be found on some cancer cell types. Preparation: No fasting required.

How often should CEA be checked? ›

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, for example, recommends that people who are treated for stage II or III colon or rectal cancer have CEA testing every 3 to 6 months for 2 years and then every 6 months for 3 additional years, plus CT scans every 6 to 12 months for 5 years.

How sensitive is CEA for colon cancer? ›

Sensitivity of CEA ranged from 17.4 % to 100 %, specificity ranged from 66.1 % to 98.4 %, positive predictive value ranged from 45.8 % to 95.2% and negative predictive value ranged from 74.5 % to 100 %.

Is CEA a tumor marker for ovarian cancer? ›

Serum CEA is also commonly used as a tumor marker in mucinous epithelial ovarian tumor. This study evaluated these 3 serum tumor markers (CA19-9, CA-125, and CEA) and established their diagnostic value in the prediction of malignancy in mucinous ovarian tumors.

Can fatty liver increase CEA? ›

The elevation of CEA in chronic inflammatory conditions suggests that this marker may also be associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

What is a high cancer marker? ›

What are tumor markers? Tumor markers are substances found in higher-than-normal levels in the blood, urine, or tissues of some people with cancer. These substances, which are also called biomarkers, can be made by the tumor. They can also be made by healthy cells in response to the tumor.

What is a CEA level for stage 3 colon cancer? ›

Cases with CEA ≤5 ng/mL were majorly in Stage III, whereas those with CEA >5 ng/mL were predominantly in Stage IV.

Can CEA detect thyroid cancer? ›

Serum calcitonin (CT) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) are valuable tumour markers in patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). Both markers most often evolve in parallel after treatment. Selpercatinib (LOXO-292) is a highly selective RET kinase inhibitor indicated in advanced RET-mutant MTC patients.

What is the highest CEA number? ›

A CEA over 10.0 ng/ml often means cancer. A CEA over 20.0 ng/ml often means cancer that has metastasized. Very high levels (sometimes well over 100 ng/ml) are frequently seen with metastases to the pleural cavity, peritoneal cavity, and central nervous system.

What is a high CEA level for Stage 2 colon cancer? ›

The present study analyzed 199 consecutive patients with stage II colon cancer who underwent curative surgery between January 2007 and December 2016. The CEA value was considered high when it was ≥5.0 ng/ml.

What CEA level is a Stage 4 cancer? ›

Conclusions Patients with stage IV colon and rectal cancer with a CEA level greater than or equal to 275 ng/mL and an ALB level less than 2.7g/dL had a significantly shorter survival time.

Can CEA show lymphoma? ›

According to literature data, CEA is not specific only for tumours of endodermal origin, but it may be elevated in tumours of mesodermal origin including malignant lymphomas.

What are kidney cancer warning signs? ›

Some possible signs and symptoms of kidney cancer include:
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Low back pain on one side (not caused by injury)
  • A mass (lump) on the side or lower back.
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss not caused by dieting.
  • Fever that is not caused by an infection and that doesn't go away.

Does CEA detect pancreatic cancer? ›

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is one of the most widely used tumor markers and is increased in 30%–60% of patients with pancreatic cancer. Although carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) is the most important serum biomarker in pancreatic cancer, the diagnostic and prognostic value of CEA is gradually being recognized.

Can diet affect CEA levels? ›

CEA also had a significantly negative correlation with the intake of protein, carbohydrate, zinc, vitamin B6, and folate in both men and women.

Is a CEA level of 5.1 high? ›

A CEA level greater than 5 ng/mL will usually trigger a workup to look for possible disease recurrence.

Can medications raise CEA levels? ›

Actually, it has been shown that the expression of CEA can be up-regulated by pharmacological agents including, antineoplastic drugs (i.e. 5-fluorouracil), cytokines (i.e. interferons or interleukin-6), differentiating agents (i.e. sodium butyrate) and protein kinase inhibitors (i.e. staurosporine).

What factors affect CEA? ›

This study showed that CEA levels can vary by body mass index, white blood cell count, hemoglobin, aspartate aminotransferase, creatinine, and glycosylated hemoglobin and that these factors should be adjusted before interpreting CEA levels in clinical practice.

Can arthritis raise CEA levels? ›

In an earlier study, the mean plasma carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) level of patients with seropositive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was found to be significantly higher than that of normal, control subjects. Levels of CEA in patients with seronegative RA and ankylosing spondylitis, however, did not differ from normal.

How can I lower my CEA levels naturally? ›

Thus, we suggest that exercise for 2-3 days per week decreases the expression of CEA and improves body condition, without loading fatigue or stress, which may contribute to preventing cancer in the elderly women.

Can stress affect CEA levels? ›

Our findings clearly indicated that immobilization stress results in enhanced serum CEA level whether the stress is acute or chronic. Consistent with our finding, there are reports suggesting that stress can increase tumor growth and tumor marker expression [26, 27].

Can CEA go down? ›

CEA levels are expected to go down in patients who have had surgery to remove their tumor. An elevated CEA may indicate a recurrence of your cancer. CEA is not a biomarker in all colorectal cancer patients.

Is CEA level 4 high? ›

The normal range for CEA is 0 to 2.5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng/mL). If CEA levels remain elevated during treatment, your treatment may not have been as successful as hoped. Anything greater than 10 ng/mL suggests extensive disease, and levels greater than 20 ng/mL suggest the cancer may be spreading.

Is CEA level 8 high? ›

A CEA value of greater than 8 ng/ml was highly suggestive of residual disease or recurrence, even when no clinical evidence was present. Approximately 90% of the patients dying from colorectal cancer showed an increase in CEA to greater than 8 ng/ml during the course of the disease.

What does a CEA of 4.5 mean? ›

Causes of a High CEA Level

A CEA over 2.5 (or 5.0 in smokers) can mean either cancer or benign inflammatory conditions (or both). A CEA over 10.0 ng/ml often means cancer. A CEA over 20.0 ng/ml often means cancer that has metastasized.

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