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Subspecialties Precision medicine, Laboratory management, Oncology

CEA: Overlooked and Underused

A Mayo Clinic study has found that a simple blood test could improve treatment for nearly one fifth of patients with stage II colon cancer; but many who could benefit from the test are not receiving it.

The test measures levels of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), which has an established link to patient prognosis, and can help to predict recurrence-free survival. But researchers found that it could also play an important role in selecting the most appropriate therapy for some patients (1).

Using information from the National Cancer Database, the team studied over 40,000 patients and found that the results of the CEA test could improve colon cancer staging predictions, raising the risk from average to high in 17 percent of stage II patients. The new classification could have affected potential treatment options, including the decision to use chemotherapy. The researchers also found that adjuvant chemotherapy following surgery appeared to reduce the increased mortality associated with stage II patients with an elevated CEA level.

“The decision to give a patient chemotherapy after surgery is not a light one, and physicians must weigh the risks and benefits,” said Kellie Mathis (2), a Mayo Clinic colon and rectal surgeon and senior of the study. “There is no good reason for a physician to omit this blood test, and more work needs to be done to ensure that all patients receive it.”

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  1. BA Spindler et al., “Incorporation of CEA improves risk stratification in stage II colon cancer”, J Gastrointest Surg, 21, 770-777 (2017). PMID: 28290141.
  2. Mayo Clinic News Network, “Underused cancer test could improve treatment for thousands, Mayo Clinic study finds”, (2017). Available at: Accessed June 27, 2017.
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as an Associate Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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