According to an article recently published in the Archives of Surgical Oncology, changes in carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels following surgery, as compared to before surgery, are associated with survival among patients with Stage III rectal cancer.

The rectum is the last portion of the large intestine. Standard treatment for rectal cancer often includes the surgical removal of as much of the cancer as possible.

Stage III rectal cancer refers to cancer that has penetrated the wall of the rectum and spread to nearby lymph nodes but not elsewhere in the body. Although Stage III rectal cancer may be considered curable, a large portion of these patients experience a recurrence. Researchers continue to evaluate patient and disease characteristics that may identify patients at a higher risk for a recurrence. Such patients may benefit from additional therapy.

Levels of the protein CEA in the blood may indicate the presence or spread of rectal cancer. Researchers continue to evaluate the significance of these levels.

Researchers from South Korea recently conducted a study to evaluate the potential association between CEA levels prior to and following surgery among patients with Stage III rectal cancer This study included 631 patients who underwent surgery. CEA levels were taken seven days prior to surgery and seven days following surgery.

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  • Patients whose CEA levels were high prior to surgery and continued to rise following surgery had significantly poorer survival and an increased risk of cancer recurrences.

The researchers concluded that CEA levels prior to and following surgery may help identify patients with Stage III rectal cancer who are at a higher risk for a cancer recurrence and death. These patients may ultimately benefit from additional therapy or participation in a clinical trial.

Patients with Stage III rectal cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of CEA testing.

Reference: Park Y-A, Lee K Kim N, et al. Prognostic Effect of Perioperative Change of Serum Carcinoembryonic Antigen Level: A Useful Tool for Detection of Systemic Recurrence in Rectal Cancer. Archives of Surgical Oncology. 2006; 13:645-650.

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