Pathology Handbook

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)



Clinical Indications

CEA has limited value in primary diagnosis of malignancy since it has poor specificity and low sensitivity for early stage G.I. carcinoma.  CEA may be elevated in almost any advanced adenocarcinoma where distant metastases are present and is almost never elevated in early malignancy. Regular levels may have a role in the detection of recurrent disease or in monitoring tumour therapy in colorectal, gastric, breast, bronchial and some ovarian carcinomas.

Request Form

Request on ICE


On request if specific criteria met.

Specific Criteria

Monitoring of therapy for colorectal, gastric, breast and bronchial carcinomas. CEA should not be used in the initial post-operative period.

Turnaround Time

Run daily Monday to Friday




7 ml


Vacutainer gold top

Causes for Rejection

Unlabelled or incorrectly labelled sample; not meeting specific criteria for analysis; inadequate clinical information.

Reference Range

Less than 4 µg/L

Half-life in Serum

Approx. 3 days but can vary from 1 to 5 days.


Modest elevations may be found in normal pregnancy, in smokers (up to approx. 7 ug/L), in certain inflammatory bowel disorders including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, in pancreatitis, gastric ulceration and alcoholic infections.