Background: The prognostic implication of serum carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) has yet to be comprehensively analyzed since the reports available so far have comprised small patient populations. We evaluated perioperative CEA values with regard to surgical results in a large number of patients to clarify its merit.
Methods: We measured serum CEA levels before and after surgery in 1,000 consecutive patients with clinical stage I non-small cell lung cancer who underwent resection of tumor. High CEA value was greater than 5.0 ng/mL.
Results: Three hundred and sixty-eight patients (36.8%) had high preoperative CEA levels. The CEA levels after surgery were normalized in 242 patients (24.2%) and persistently elevated in 126 patients (12.6%). High CEA levels were seen more frequently in patients with older age, male gender, larger size of tumor, incomplete resection, and advanced pathologic stage. Patients with a high preoperative CEA level had a poor survival. Among these patients, even worse survival was seen for those with a high postoperative CEA level. These prognostic trends were still observed for patients with pathologic stage I disease. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that both preoperative and postoperative CEA levels were independent prognostic determinants (p = 0.0243 and p < 0.0001, respectively).
Conclusions: Perioperative measurement of serum CEA concentrations yields information valuable for detecting patients at high risk of poor survival. Normalization of CEA levels after surgery was a significant favorable prognostic sign in patients with an elevated CEA level before surgery. Even after apparently successful surgical therapy, patients with a high CEA level should be carefully followed up, and might represent a suitable target for neoadjuvant clinical trials.