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Ovarian Cancer Screening

Learn about the steps that people at high risk for cancer can take to manage their risk and protect their health.

Biomarkers and proteomics

Biomarkers are substances such as proteins or other molecules which might indicate the presence or progression of a disease such as ovarian cancer. CA125 is an example of a biomarker for ovarian cancer. Scientists are looking for other biomarkers that might lead to more sensitive and specific tests for ovarian cancer. Several possible substances have been identified. 

The science of proteomics identifies the thousands of proteins produced by the body, and how they function in health and illnesses such as cancer. Advances in proteomics are improving our capability of identifying smaller proteins and identifying a large number of proteins at one time in a mass analysis. Some researchers are searching for “protein patterns” that might indicate specific cancers more accurately. One small study looking at a proteomic test showed high sensitivity and specificity for detecting ovarian cancer. A more recent study found blood tests which tested for three proteins in addition to CA125 improved the sensitivity of the CA125 for screening for ovarian cancer. Research is continues to determine whether proteomic testing can lead to an accurate test to detect early-stage ovarian cancer.


Early studies looked at women with both benign and cancerous pelvic masses, and compared their CA-125 to HE4 blood test results. HE4 levels identified more ovarian cancers than CA-125 alone. A 2014 study shows the potential of using HE4 as a biomarker to confirm elevated CA-125 values. While this is an early study, the authors note that using HE4 as a primary screening test increased false positive results. However, using it as a secondary test to follow up an abnormal CA-125 result showed more promise, and could decrease false positives generated by using CA-125 alone. This study was relatively small, few cancers were detected, and screening did not identify any early (stage 1) cancers. More research is needed before the use of additional biomarkers in ovarian cancer screening is recommended.

Updated 12/29/2016

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