Investigators use a surrogate endpoint when the endpoint of interest is too difficult and/or expensive to measure routinely and when they can define some other, more readily measurable, endpoint, that is sufficiently well correlated with the first to justify its use as a substitute. A surrogate endpoint is usually proposed on the basis of a biologic rationale. In cancer studies with survival time as the primary endpoint, surrogate endpoints frequently employed are tumour response, time to progression, or time to reappearance of disease, since these events occur earlier and are unaffected by use of secondary therapies. In early drug development studies, tumour response is often the true primary endpoint. We discuss the investigation of the validity of carcinoembryonic antigen (a tumour marker present in the blood) as a surrogate for tumour response. In considering the validity of surrogate endpoints, one must distinguish between study endpoints that provide a basis for reliable comparisons of therapeutic effect, and clinical endpoints that are useful for patient management but have insufficient sensitivity and/or specificity to provide reproducible assessments of the effects of particular therapies.