Proceeds from website advertising help sustain Lab Tests Online. AACC is a not-for-profit organization and does not endorse non-AACC products and services.

Carcinoembryonic Antigen

Print this article
Share this page:
Also known as: CEA
Formal name: Carcinoembryonic Antigen

Board approvedAll content on Lab Tests Online has been reviewed and approved by our Editorial Review Board.

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a protein that is present in certain tissues of a developing baby (fetus). By the time a baby is born, it drops to a very low level. In adults, CEA is normally present at very low levels in the blood but may be elevated with certain types of cancer. This test measures the amount of CEA in the blood to help evaluate individuals diagnosed with cancer.

CEA is a tumor marker. Originally, it was thought that CEA was a specific marker for colon cancer, but further study has shown that an increase in CEA may be seen in a wide variety of other cancers. CEA can also be increased in some non-cancer-related conditions, such as inflammation, cirrhosis, peptic ulcer, ulcerative colitis, rectal polyps, emphysema, and benign breast disease, and in smokers. For this reason, it is not useful as a general cancer screening tool, but it does have a role in evaluating response to cancer treatment. When an individual has been diagnosed with cancer, an initial baseline test for CEA may be performed. If this level is elevated, then subsequent serial testing of CEA may be performed to monitor the cancer as the individual undergoes treatment.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by needle from a vein in the arm. Occasionally, another body fluid such as peritoneal fluid, pleural fluid, or cerebrospinal (CSF) is collected by a healthcare practitioner for testing.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.