CEA, Carcinoembryonic Antigen

This is a test to determine whether cancer is present in the body and to monitor cancer treatment. CEA is a protein that is found in embryonic tissues. By the time a baby is born, detectable levels in the blood disappear. CEA levels can indicate some non-cancer-related conditions, such as some forms of inflammation, cirrhosis, and peptic ulcer. Also, smokers tend to have higher CEA levels than non-smokers.

CEA is a protein that is normally not able to be detected in the blood of a healthy person. When the protein appears in the blood of an adult, it can indicate cancer, but it will not indicate which kind of cancer is present. CEA is often used to monitor patients with cancers of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It can also indicate benign conditions.

CEA is most useful to monitor treatment of cancer patients. It is used with patients who have had surgery to measure response to therapy and to monitor whether the disease is recurring. A blood test for CEA is often used as a tumor marker. Physicians can use CEA results to determine the stage and extent of disease, and the outlook in patients with cancer, especially gastrointestinal (GI) and, in particular, colorectal cancer. CEA is also used as a marker for other forms of cancer. It has been found helpful in monitoring patients with cancer of the rectum, lung, breast, liver, pancreas, stomach, and ovary. Not all cancers produce CEA, therefore the CEA test is not used for screening the general population.


A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.


You should test negative.

Ranges for normal findings may vary among different laboratories and hospitals. You should always check with your doctor after having lab work or other tests done to discuss the meaning of your test results and whether your values are considered within normal limits.


Your caregiver will go over the test results with you and discuss the importance and meaning of your results, as well as treatment options and the need for additional tests if necessary.


It is your responsibility to obtain your test results. Ask the lab or department performing the test when and how you will get your results.