CEA Test

Other names: Carcinoembryonic Antigen

CEA is a protein, which is not usually found in the bloodstream; it is produced by certain types of cancer cell and can then be identified in the bloodstream. The CEA test cannot identify the type of cancer and further tests will be ordered.

When is the test used?

The CEA test is primarily used to assess the condition of patients who are receiving treatment for cancer; the test is used to monitor the patient’s condition and evaluate their response to treatment. The test may also be used after treatment has been completed to test for early warning signs that the cancer has returned. The CEA test is most commonly used for patients with bowel cancer but it may also be useful for patients with other forms of cancer, including pancreatic, liver, colorectal and ovarian cancer.

The test is usually ordered after a patient has been diagnosed with a certain form of cancer, but it may also be ordered in patients who have symptoms of cancer but have not yet been diagnosed.

How is the test performed?

The test is done by collecting a sample of blood from a vein in the arm (usually on the inside of the elbow); a needle is inserted into the vein and the blood is collected in a syringe. Once the sample has been collected, it will be bottled, labelled with the patient’s name and sent away to the laboratory for analysis.

What do the test results mean?

Higher than normal CEA levels in the blood usually indicate that a patient has cancer; the levels usually increase as the cancer becomes more advanced. If levels of CEA decrease in a patient who is having treatment, this usually indicates that the treatment is working. If levels start to increase once the treatment has completed, this usually indicates that the cancer has returned.

Levels of CEA may also increase if a patient has other health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease and liver disease. People who smoke also tend to have slightly higher levels of CEA in their blood than non-smokers.

Specific Blood Tests

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