Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow in an uncontrolled way. In response to this process, the body will produce tumor markers.
By testing for tumor markers, doctors can confirm the presence of cancer and gauge its severity. Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a tumor marker that can be present in people with ovarian cancer. However, it is not particularly useful for detecting this form of cancer, as other tumor marker tests are more reliable.
This article explains what CEA tests are and what they can tell doctors about ovarian cancer. It also discusses what to expect from a CEA test, the risks of this procedure, and some other tumor marker tests.
Tumor markers tend to exist at elevated levels in the body of someone with cancer. By testing for tumor marker levels, doctors can gain evidence that someone has cancer. Tumor marker tests may also help doctors stage the cancer, assess the efficacy of any treatment, and estimate the person’s outlook.
However, this evidence is somewhat unreliable as people can have elevated tumor marker levels without having cancer.
CEA is a nonspecific tumor marker, and elevated levels can happen in people with various forms of cancer, including:
Ovarian cancer is a serious condition in which the cells of the ovaries mutate, leading to uncontrolled and abnormal growth. If a person does not receive treatment, this cancer can spread to other body parts.
The study authors conclude that testing for CEA levels can help doctors discern whether a mucinous ovarian tumor is benign, borderline, or cancerous. However, this may not apply to other ovarian tumor subtypes.
The first step involves the person sitting down and getting comfortable. The individual should inform the healthcare professional of any relevant fears, such as those involving blood or needles, in case they have a tendency to feel faint. This can help the healthcare professional prepare for this scenario.
The healthcare professional will choose a suitable vein for taking blood, which will usually be one in the arm or hand. They will wrap a tourniquet around that arm, which makes the vein more prominent.
Using a needle and syringe, the doctor or nurse will puncture the vein to draw blood. They will then remove the tourniquet and use gauze or cotton wool to apply pressure to the vein. This will reduce bleeding. The whole procedure takes less than 5 minutes and does not require the person to fast beforehand.
Although taking blood samples is a safe procedure, some unwanted effects are possible. The risks associated with CEA blood tests include:
A doctor will interpret the results of the test.
Research has linked blood CEA levels greater than
In people already receiving treatment for cancer, a reduction in CEA levels may mean that the treatment is working, while consistently high levels may mean that the cancer is not responding to treatment.
CEA tests are not the only tumor marker test for ovarian cancer. Elevated levels of CA125 and CA19 tumor markers also suggest a cancerous mucinous ovarian tumor.
- human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
- alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)
- lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
By checking for elevated CEA levels, doctors can get a more accurate impression of whether someone’s ovarian tumor is benign.
However, as with tumor marker tests in general, these results are prone to generating false positives and false negatives. For this reason, doctors will not rely solely on CEA tests for diagnosing ovarian cancer.