Is There a Blood Test for Ovarian Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/30/2021

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of the cells. When cancer begins in the ovaries, it is called ovarian cancer.
Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of the cells. When cancer begins in the ovaries, it is called ovarian cancer.

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of the cells. When cancer begins in the ovaries, it is called ovarian cancer. The ovaries are a pair of organs that are part of the female reproductive system. Each ovary is an oval-shaped organ, roughly 2 inches long. The ovaries are in the pelvis on either side of the uterus. Their main function includes producing the egg or ovum and female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone).

The diagnosis of ovarian cancer involves performing a detailed clinical assessment of the patient, imaging studies and certain blood tests. The cancer or carcinoma antigen 125 (CA-125) blood test is a popularly performed blood test in patients with ovarian cancer.

What is the CA-125 blood test?

CA-125 is known by various other names such as ovarian cancer antigen and CA-125 tumor marker. It is a protein present on the surface of most (but not all) ovarian cells. Thus, significantly high levels of CA-125 may be seen in the blood of patients with ovarian cancer. Because all types of ovarian cancer do not possess this protein, not all women with ovarian cancer will have high levels of CA-125 in their blood.

CA-125 may be elevated in several noncancerous conditions such as:

Hence, elevated CA-125 levels do not mean that the patient surely has ovarian cancer. Doctors do not recommend the CA-125 blood test for screening women with low to moderate ovarian cancer risk. The test, nonetheless, does have several important uses such as:

The CA-125 blood test is a simple test during which a health professional collects a blood sample from a vein in the patient’s arm by using a small needle. The collection hardly takes five minutes, and the patient does not need to make any special preparation for the test. They may experience slight stinging when the needle goes in and out of their skin. They may also have little pain or bruising at the needle site, but it goes away on its own without generally causing any significant discomfort. The doctor will assess their test results and may refer them to a gynecologist if needed.

What other tumor markers indicate ovarian cancer?

Table: Other less popular tumor markers that can be done on patients with ovarian cancer
Tumor markers Tumor types in the ovaries
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) Ovarian germ cell tumors
Beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG) Ovarian germ cell tumors
Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) Alternative to CA-125 (HE4 is more sensitive)
Inhibin A and inhibin B Mucinous epithelial carcinoma and granulosa cell tumors of the ovaries
Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) Nonspecific tumor marker of ovarian cancer

QUESTION

Where does ovarian cancer occur? See Answer

Are tumor marker tests enough to diagnose ovarian cancer?

CA-125 or any other tumor marker alone cannot be used to diagnose ovarian cancer. The doctor may diagnose ovarian cancer by using a multipronged approach that includes:

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References
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html

https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/ca-125-blood-test-ovarian-cancer/

https://www.oncolink.org/cancers/gynecologic/ovarian-cancer/tumor-markers-for-ovarian-cancer

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