Blood test: Different lab different result


BS is a 47-year-old male who was diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2014. He underwent a surgery in hospital A in Penang. It was a Stage 2A cancer. No chemo, radiation or medication was recommended.

About a year later,  21 January 2016, BS underwent another procedure to remove 2 polyps in his colon. A CT scan was also done and the results were not good:

  1. There were multiple nodules in both lungs. The largest one measures 1.2 cm. This is not see in the previous scan.
  2. There was a small cyst in segment 3 of his liver, measuring 1.1 x 1.1 cm.

The above findings are consistent with metastases. BS was asked to undergo chemotherapy and also take the oral drug, Xeloda. He refused and decided to take our herbs and take care of his diet. Later, BS also told us that he went to Bali to learn how to meditate (, which I believe did him a lot of good.

To monitor his progress, BS did a full blood test on 14 July 2016 in a private laboratory. The results was good.

Alpha-fetoprotein = 2.1, CEA = 2.7, CA 19.9 = 29.6 and CA 125 = 6.2.

Three months later, 18 October 2016, BS did another full blood test in a private hospital. The results was not good.

Alpha-fetoprotein = 1.38, CEA = 9.1, CA 19.9 = 17.96

His CEA has increased from 2.7 three months ago to 9.1. BS felt upset and disappointed. We discussed what had happened. For the past month, BS had been under extreme stress. His young nephew was robbed and murdered. Apart from that, he slacked on his diet. My advice to BS. Don’t worry so much for now. Try and relax and let’s see what happen in the next three months. We shall repeat the blood test.

But to be sure, I suggested that BS repeat this CEA test with a private lab which we always send our patients to and which he went to earlier. So BS repeated the same CEA test the next day, 19 October 2016.

Lo and behold, CEA from the private lab returned a normal value of 2.5, which is more than 3 times lower than the results obtained by the private hospital. I then suggested that BS repeat this same test in his hometown. The result was CEA = 8.4. So here it goes, three different labs came up with three different numbers!

Now, what has gone wrong? And which result is the correct measure of the situation? What could have been the consequences of such mistake? No doubt about it, BS could have been told to undergo chemotherapy since the cancer has recurred. Or BS would have to do a PET scan to find out what had gone wrong. But, is it true that something had gone wrong?

I have learned not to trust blood test results since years ago. This is because my patients make me see the reality of what happened in the real medical world. One prostate cancer patient went to three labs one morning and made them evaluate his PSA level. The results from the three tests were all different! Here goes the reliability of scientific medicine.

Then, Jennifer regularly monitored her CA 125. The value was around 400 plus which was high. One day, she went to a well known private hospital in Kuala Lumpur and did her blood test. The result was shocking, her CA 125 shot up to 800 plus. Panic, she called me. This was what I told her. I think the result from that private hospital was wrong! Someone must have made a mistake!. To know the truth, repeat the test. Jennifer went to a university hospital. Her CA 125 was back to 400 plus — similar to the previous level.

What can we learn from these episodes? Patients pay for the mistakes that other people in the hospital make! So patients, BEWARE. Just imagine, in panic Jennifer could has been sent for chemotherapy immediately because of the mistake made by someone in the lab.

How serious and how often things like this happen is for anyone to guess! Indeed sad. Ponder the quotations below and always be on guard!