What Does A CEA Blood Test Tell You?

Explore what CEA blood tests can reveal about cancer progression, treatments, and when elevated levels should cause concern.


CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) is a protein often associated with certain types of cancer. While it is not a definitive diagnostic tool for cancer, the CEA blood test can help medical professionals predict cancer progression, evaluate the effectiveness of treatments, and determine if cancer has recurred after initial treatment. This article aims to answer some common questions about the CEA blood test.

What Does It Mean When Your CEA Level is High?

High levels of CEA can be worrisome, often indicating a less favorable prognosis. However, elevated CEA levels don’t always imply cancer. These levels may require additional testing for confirmation, as they can sometimes be affected by other medical conditions or even certain medications. Multiple CEA tests may be performed over time to monitor a patient’s response to cancer treatment.

What Level of CEA Indicates Cancer?

There is no specific CEA level that confirms the presence of cancer. A CEA level over 2.9 ng/mL is generally considered abnormal but does not definitively indicate cancer. It’s crucial to pair CEA tests with other diagnostic tests for a more accurate assessment.

What Type of Cancer is a CEA Tumor Marker? What is a Normal Tumor Marker for Colon Cancer?

CEA is mainly used for colorectal (colon) cancer but can also indicate other cancer types. The typical CEA levels for a non-smoker range from 0 to 2.5 ng/mL. Smokers may have levels up to 5 ng/mL, which are still considered normal.

When Should I Be Worried About CEA?

Persistently elevated levels of CEA after treatment, levels exceeding 10 ng/mL, or levels over 20 ng/mL, can be concerning and warrant further investigation. Elevated levels may signify the presence of a considerable amount of disease or suggest that cancer may be spreading.

Can Anxiety Increase CEA Levels?

Research suggests a correlation between stress and tumor growth, theoretically elevating CEA levels. Stress management techniques like mindfulness and meditation can be beneficial.

What Medications Increase CEA?

Certain drugs like antineoplastics, cytokines, differentiating agents, and protein kinase inhibitors have been found to elevate CEA levels. Always discuss any medications you take with your healthcare provider, especially when undergoing CEA testing.

What Can Falsely Elevate CEA? Can Colon Polyps Cause Elevated CEA?

Factors like diabetes, smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and colon polyps can cause false elevations in CEA levels.

CEA Levels and Stages of Colon Cancer

  • Stage 1 and 2: A preoperative CEA level of 2.35 ng/mL is considered a cut-off for predicting survival rates in Stage 1 and Stage 2 colon cancer patients.
  • Stage 3: A preoperative CEA level of 3 ng/mL is considered the cut-off for identifying high or low risk in Stage 3 colon cancer patients.

Can I Order a CEA Blood Test Online?

Yes, you can order a CEA blood test without a doctor’s order at Walk-In Lab.


CEA blood tests are valuable tools for monitoring and predicting the behavior of certain cancers, particularly colorectal cancer. However, they are not standalone diagnostic tests. Elevated CEA levels require further investigation and should be interpreted alongside other diagnostic tests and medical history.


  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine: CEA Blood Test
  2. Cleveland Clinic: CEA Test
  3. Understanding the CEA Test in Colon Cancer – CancerConnect
  4. PubMed: Medications That Increase CEA
  5. Personalabs: Understanding Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) Levels
  6. AACR Journals: CEA Levels and Survival in Stage III Colon Cancer

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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