Chemical Pathology


  • As with most tumour markers there is a high incidence of false positive and false negative results.
  • Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is most appropriately used in monitoring disease progression or effectiveness of treatment once diagnosis of the tumour has been made and serum concentrations have been shown to be raised prior to treatment.
  • CEA is recommended for use only to monitor recurrence in some patients following resection of colorectal cancer.
  • CEA has been shown to be raised in almost any advanced adenocarcinoma but rarely in early disease so should not be used for screening or diagnosis

Sample requirements

If patient on high dose biotin therapy (>5mg/day) collect sample at least 8 hours after the last dose.

For adults, 5 ml of blood taken into a narrow gold top tube (or rust top for the Acute Unit)

5ml gold tube


Send at ambient temperature to the laboratory. If unavoidable, samples can be stored refrigerated overnight.

Required information

Relevant clinical details, including site of primary tumour. Is the test being used for baseline levels prior to treatment or for follow-up?

Turnaround times

  • The assays are run on a daily basis Monday to Friday.
  • The in-lab turnaround time is less than 4 days.

Reference ranges

  • Assayed using the Cobas CEA ECLIA
  • Reference range: less than 5 µg/L

Further information

Lab Tests Online: CEA test

Monograph of the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine

BMJ 2009; 339: b3527 Serum tumour markers: how to order and interpret them

Page last updated 20/09/2017