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What is CEA

renw's picture
Posts: 282
Joined: Jan 2013

Everyone with colorectal cancer is aware of CEA, short for Carcinoembryonic Antigen and watches their levels very closely. However, not many seem to know what CEA actually is, what it does and why its important. Here is my take on CEA:

CEA is the oldest known marker for colorectal cancer (identified in 1965). It is expressed in about 90% of colorectal cancers. It is currently the most common marker used to monitor colorectal cancer and disease progression. Increasing CEA levels are typical signs of progressing disease and the formation of metastases.

CEA is typically expressed during embryonic development, and stops after the fetus is formed. CEA is a glycoprotein belonging to the immunoglobulin supergene family.

Despite a lot of research, not very much is know about the biological function of CEA. What is known, is:

a) CEA protects cells from apoptosis. High levels of CEA have been correlated to poor function of the 5fu chemo agent. It also protects cancer cells from UV-light and Á- Interferon.

b) CEA overexpression can protect tumor cells from anoikis. Anoikis is basically apoptosis induced by loss of cell contact with the extracellular matrix. It can thus protect circulating tumour cells and help them metastize.

c) Experimental and clinical studies show that CEA is involved in the development of liver metastasis from colorectal cancer.

The full article is on my blog: http://www.mcrc4.com/?p=3980

thxmiker's picture
Posts: 1282
Joined: Oct 2010

A simple explanation of CEA.  (Again not perfect and my understanding.)  CEA is the measurement of the growing of blood vessels feeding cancerous tumors.  A person's CEA could be really high meaning the growth of the tumor is fairly agggressive. I have two tumors and numerous metastasis' with a very low CEA 2.0.  What this should mean is that my body is not growing the tumors nor the metastasis at a rapid rate.  (This is also not necessarily correct.  It is an approximation of growth.)


I would appreciate any other information.  I could have a complete misinterperation of CEA.


Best Always,  mike

devotion10's picture
Posts: 631
Joined: Jan 2010

to play such a big part of the ups and downs of this journey. It has always been so curious to me that for some these blood tests do not accurately track the actual status of their cancer progression and then I have heard that dying cancer cells can result in an increase in CEA levels ... 


We're merely one tree with various types, shapes and sizes of leaves that all wave differently in the breeze.

tachilders's picture
Posts: 313
Joined: Jun 2012

My CEA level at diagnosis was pretty low (like 5.7) but my tumors were growing very fast.  Also, 5fu works seems to work for me but not great.  I guess I am an exception to the rule on CEA. 

renw's picture
Posts: 282
Joined: Jan 2013

Yeah, 10% of colorectal cancers do not express CEA.

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