The clinical significance of elevated levels of serum CA 19-9

Med J Malaysia. 2003 Dec;58(5):667-72.


The tumour marker CA19-9 is a sensitive marker for pancreatic, gastric and hepatobiliary malignancies. High CA 19-9 level indicates unresectable lesions and a poor prognosis. The objective of the study was to determine the significance and implications of elevated CA 19-9 levels in the serum. A one-year retrospective review of all patients who had CA19-9 measured in our Medical Centre was undertaken; 69 patients were found to have CA 19-9 level above the cut-off value (37 U/ml). Thirty-six patients had malignant and the remaining 33 had benign lesions. CA 19-9 was found to be elevated in malignancies of pancreas, colorectum, lung, liver and ovary. Benign conditions associated with elevation of CA 19-9 included disease of the hepatobiliary system, pneumonia, pleural effusion, renal failure and SLE. In two individuals, there was no obvious cause for the elevation of this marker. CA 19-9 levels were significantly lower in benign than in malignant conditions. In conclusion, elevated CA 19-9 may be found in patients with benign as well as malignant disease. Therefore, it is important (1) that elevated levels of CA 19-9 are interpreted in the light of the clinical presentation of the patient and (2) to be aware of the benign conditions that can be associated with increased levels of this marker. With these factors in mind, CA 19-9 can be used to assist in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and assessment of resection adequacy post-operatively.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • CA-19-9 Antigen / blood*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / blood*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / blood*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CA-19-9 Antigen