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Am J Surg. 1995 Dec;170(6):597-600; discussion 600-1.

Carcinoembryonic antigen measurements in the management of esophageal cancer: an indicator of subclinical recurrence.

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Department of Surgery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA.



Detection of subclinical recurrence after surgical resection of esophageal cancer would allow earlier treatment of recurrent disease and potentially offer a better outcome for rescue therapy.


The utility of serum carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) assay was evaluated in the management of patients with esophageal cancer.


Serum carcinoembryonic antigen was measured preoperatively in 74 patients. Elevation of the CEA level (> 5 ng/mL) was present in 14 patients (19%). There was no relationship between preoperative CEA elevation and the stage of the tumor or the patients' survival. Eighty-three patients had CEA assay at regular follow-up intervals after resection. Objective evidence of recurrent disease was determined at similar intervals by chest radiography and abdominal and thoracic computed tomography scans. During follow-up, 53 of 83 patients developed recurrence. Postoperative elevation of CEA levels occurred in 32 patients, resulting in a sensitivity of 55% for detecting recurrent disease. Twenty-nine of the 32 patients who developed CEA elevation had objective evidence of metastatic disease. In 13 patients, the rise in CEA levels predated objective evidence of recurrence by a median of 4 months (range 3 to 35), and in 16 patients, it occurred concomitantly. The specificity with which an elevated postoperative CEA level indicated recurrence was high, 90%, with a positive predictive value of 91%.


Postoperative CEA elevation is highly predictive of recurrent disease. In 16% of patients, elevation of CEA was the earliest objective sign of recurrence; such elevation should prompt consideration of adjuvant therapy.

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