Retrospective Study
Copyright ©The Author(s) 2020. Published by Baishideng Publishing Group Inc. All rights reserved.
World J Gastroenterol. Nov 28, 2020; 26(44): 7022-7035
Published online Nov 28, 2020. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v26.i44.7022
Prognostic value of changes in serum carcinoembryonic antigen levels for preoperative chemoradiotherapy response in locally advanced rectal cancer
Chinock Cheong, Jun Sang Shin, Kwang Wook Suh
Chinock Cheong, Jun Sang Shin, Kwang Wook Suh, Department of Surgery, Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon 16499, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Author contributions: Cheong C conceived and designed the study, collected the data, and drafted the manuscript; Shin JS conducted and reviewed the research; Suh KW reviewed the draft.
Institutional review board statement: This study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the Ajou University School of Medicine (MED-MDB-18-329).
Conflict-of-interest statement: There are no conflicts of interest to declare.
Data sharing statement: No additional data are available.
Open-Access: This article is an open-access article that was selected by an in-house editor and fully peer-reviewed by external reviewers. It is distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:
Corresponding author: Kwang Wook Suh, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Surgery, Ajou University School of Medicine, 164 World Cup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 16499, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea.
Received: August 6, 2020
Peer-review started: August 6, 2020
First decision: October 18, 2020
Revised: October 31, 2020
Accepted: November 13, 2020
Article in press: November 13, 2020
Published online: November 28, 2020

Preoperative chemoradiotherapy (CRT) is a standard treatment modality for locally advanced rectal cancer. However, CRT alone cannot improve overall survival. Approximately 20% of patients with CRT-resistant tumors show disease progression. Therefore, predictive factors for treatment response are needed to identify patients who will benefit from CRT. We theorized that the prognosis may vary if patients are classified according to pre- to post-CRT changes in carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels.


To identify patients with locally advanced rectal cancer for preoperative chemoradiotherapy based on carcinoembryonic antigen levels.


We retrospectively included locally advanced rectal cancer patients who underwent preoperative CRT and curative resection between 2011 and 2017. Patients were assigned to groups A, B, and C based on pre- and post-CRT serum CEA levels: Both > 5; pre > 5 and post ≤ 5; and both ≤ 5 ng/mL, respectively. We compared the response to CRT based on changes in serum CEA levels. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis was performed to determine optimal cutoff for neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio and platelet–lymphocyte ratio. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to evaluate the prognostic factors for pathologic complete response (pCR)/good response.


The cohort comprised 145 patients; of them, 27, 43, and 65 belonged to groups A, B, and C, respectively, according to changes in serum CEA levels before and after CRT. Pre- (P < 0.001) and post-CRT (P < 0.001) CEA levels and the ratio of down-staging (P = 0.013) were higher in Groups B and C than in Group A. The ratio of pathologic tumor regression grade 0/1 significantly differed among the groups (P = 0.003). Group C had the highest number of patients showing pCR (P < 0.001). Most patients with pCR showed pre- and post-CRT CEA levels < 5 ng/mL (P < 0.001, P = 0.008). Pre- and post-CRT CEA levels were important risk factors for pCR (OR = 18.71; 95%CI: 4.62–129.51, P < 0.001) and good response (OR = 5.07; 95%CI: 1.92–14.83, P = 0.002), respectively. Pre-CRT neutrophil–lymphocyte ratio and post-CRT T ≥ 3 stage were also prognostic factors for pCR or good response.


Pre- and post-CRT CEA levels, as well as change in CEA levels, were prognostic markers for treatment response to CRT and may facilitate treatment individualization for rectal cancer.

Keywords: Rectal cancer, Neoadjuvant chemoradiation therapy, Carcinoembryonic antigen levels, Prognostic factor, Change in serum carcinoembryonic antigen, Response of chemoradiotherapy

Core Tip: The response of preoperative chemoradiotherapy (CRT) for rectal cancer varies from pathologic complete response to disease progression. Pre- and post-CRT levels of carcinoembryonic antigen can indicate treatment response to CRT in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer. Carcinoembryonic antigen can be used as a prognostic marker to facilitate treatment individualization in rectal cancer.