The levels of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) are significantly higher in nipple fluid from cancerous breasts than tumor-free breasts, according to results from a study recently published in the
Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, with approximately 200,000 cases diagnosed each year. Although several risk factors have been associated with breast cancer, the cause of the majority of cases of breast cancer remains unknown. Researchers continue to explore the causes and risk factors for this disease in an effort to improve methods for screening and prevention.
While mammograms and breast exams are the standard screening procedures for breast cancer, researchers have begun to explore the role of tumor biomarkers for the early detection of breast cancer. In this particular study, researchers analyzed nipple aspirate fluids (NAFs) from one or both breasts of 388 women (44 with newly diagnosed invasive breast cancer, 67 with proliferative breast lesions and 277 cancer-free controls). The results indicated that the nipple fluid CEAs were significantly higher in the cancerous breasts than in the cancer-free breasts. Interestingly, women with a tumor in only one breast presented high CEA levels in the nipple fluid from both breasts. This suggests that factors occurring throughout the body can influence the levels of CEA in nipple fluid.
The researchers in this study attempted to determine whether the nipple fluid CEAs were useful as biomarkers for breast cancer detection. Because the CEAs appear to be influenced by some unknown systemic influence, the usefulness of the biomarker for early breast cancer detection might be diminished. More research is needed to understand the elevated CEA levels in nipple aspirate fluids. At this time, the test sensitivity for this biomarker is low and has limited applications in the clinical setting. The researchers theorized that at this point, analysis of nipple fluid CEA levels might be used in combination with other methods for the early detection of cancer. Future research will help to define the role of nipple fluid CEA levels in the early detection of breast cancer. (
Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 19, No. 5, pp. 1462-1467, 2001)