Carcinoembryonic Antigen Level or CEA Tests

Submitted on March 27, 2012

The term 'carcinoembryonic' has direct reference to cancers (carcino) and developing fetus (embryonic). Carcino embryonic Antigen or CEA is a type of protein molecule present in various cells of the body. CEA normally occurs in the fetal gut tissue and the serum carcinoembryonic antigen level usually declines after childbirth. Increased CEA levels are usually in response to health disorders.

The CEA test measures the level of protein in a blood sample of people with certain types of cancers. CEA levels is usually tested in blood but can also be tested in biopsy tissue and body fluids. The normal carcinoembryonic antigen range for a non smoking adult is < 2.5 ng/ml and <5.0 ng /ml for a smoking individual. A very high CEA level (above 20 ng/ml) is an indication of highly spread cancer.

CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen Level) Tests

CEA tests are mainly used to measure the success of cancer surgery. An elevated CEA level is likely to fall to normal after a successful surgery. Rising CEA levels is an indication of progressing or recurrence of cancer. CEA tests are also indicative of how well the treatment is working. CEA tests are most beneficial in gauging the success of medications and therapies.

Carcinoembryonic antigen colon cancer and rectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancers that cause an increase in CEA levels. Both malignant and benign cancers can increase the CEA levels. Apart from the colon and rectum other cancers that can cause an elevated CEA level are: thyroid, stomach, breast, pancreas and ovarian cancer. Smoking, infections and bowel disorders can also lead to elevated CEA levels. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also cause a temporary rise in normal CEA level.

A medical practitioner is most likely to ask for a CEA test only if initial diagnosis suggests the possibility of cancer. All suspected cases of colon and rectum cancer require CEA tests. It is important to note that all cancers do not cause rise in CEA levels. Therefore it is possible for a person to have cancer though CEA tests indicate normal CEA levels.


This is a very simple type of blood test and does not require any specific preparation. Smokers may be asked to stop smoking a few days before the scheduled CEA test. Drawing a blood sample may be a simple exercise for some and painful for others.

Overall, there are risks such as excessive bleeding, infection and fainting that may be possible during a CEA test.