British journal of cancer

Evaluation of serum CEA, CYFRA21-1 and CA125 for the early detection of colorectal cancer using longitudinal preclinical samples.

PMID 26035703


Blood-borne biomarkers for early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC) could markedly increase screening uptake. The aim of this study was to evaluate serum carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), CYFRA21-1 and CA125 for the early detection of CRC in an asymptomatic cohort. This nested case-control study within UKCTOCS used 381 serial serum samples from 40 women subsequently diagnosed with CRC, 20 women subsequently diagnosed with benign disease and 40 matched non-cancer controls with three to four samples per subject taken annually up to 4 years before diagnosis. CEA, CYFRA21-1 and CA125 were measured using validated assays and performance of markers evaluated for different pre-diagnosis time groups. CEA levels increased towards diagnosis in a third of all cases (half of late-stage cases), whereas longitudinal profiles were static in both benign and non-cancer controls. At a threshold of >5 ng ml(-1) the sensitivities for detecting CRC up to 1 and 4 years before clinical presentation were 25% and 13%, respectively, at 95% specificity. At a threshold of >2.5 ng ml(-1), sensitivities were 57.5% and 38.4%, respectively, with specificities of 81% and 83.5%. CYFRA21-1 and CA125 had no utility as screening markers and did not enhance CEA performance when used in combination. CEA gave average lead times of 17-24 months for test-positive cases. CEA is elevated in a significant proportion of individuals with preclinical CRC, but would not be useful alone as a screening tool. This work sets a baseline from which to develop panels of biomarkers which combine CEA for improved early detection of CRC.