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Cancer Antigen CA 125

Also Known as Cancer antigen 125, Glycoprotein antigen, Ovarian Cancer Antigen, CA-125 Tumor marker

What is a CA-125 blood test?

CA-125 (Cancer Antigen 125) is a protein present in more significant amounts in people with certain types of cancer and other health conditions.  The ovaries are a pair of female reproductive glands that produce female hormones and store ova (eggs). Ovarian cancer develops when a woman's ovary undergoes uncontrolled cell proliferation (growth). In the United States, ovarian cancer is the fifth most prevalent cause of cancer death in women.

Many women with ovarian cancer have high levels of CA-125, whereas this is a type of tumor marker test that determines how much of this protein is present in the blood. This test is used to track a patient's response to treatment for ovarian cancer and to detect ovarian cancer recurrence following treatment. 

What is the test used for?

CA-125 test is used to determine the level of CA-125 in the blood. CA-125 levels can be raised in various health conditions and cancers, although CA-125 testing is usually reserved for patients with ovarian cancer, either suspected or confirmed. Your healthcare provider may request a CA-125 test for a variety of reasons, including:

Diagnosis of pelvic mass: CA-125 testing can help evaluate whether a pelvic group identified on an imaging test is linked to ovarian cancer. CA-125 values are increased in about 80% of patients with the most common type of ovarian cancer.

Screening of high-risk patients: CA-125 testing is used to screen for ovarian cancer in people at high risk of acquiring the disease because of hereditary cancer syndromes, such as those who have inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

Evaluating ovarian cancer treatment: CA-125 testing allows healthcare providers to track how effectively a patient's ovarian cancer responds to treatment. When CA-125 levels fall, it usually indicates that the treatment is effective.

Prognosis: Checking to discover if cancer has returned following successful treatment.

Why and when do you need this test?

If you are being treated for ovarian cancer, you may need a CA-125 blood test. Your health care provider may test you at regular intervals to see how well your treatment is working and even after it is completed to monitor prognosis. 

You may also need this test if you have specific risk factors for developing ovarian cancer, such as inherited genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, have a family member diagnosed with ovarian cancer, or if you previously had uterine, breast, or colon cancer. 

What kind of sample is required for the test?

A small needle will be used by a healthcare professional to obtain a blood sample from a vein in your arm.  A small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial once the needle is inserted. When the needle goes in or out, it may sting a little. It usually takes less than five minutes to complete this process.

Do you need to prepare for the test?

A CA-125 blood test does not require any specific preparation. If there are any special instructions to follow, your health care provider will inform you.

Are there any risks to this test?

Having a blood test carries relatively little risk. You may experience minor pain or bruising where the needle gets inserted, but most symptoms disappear quickly.

What do the test results mean?

If you are being treated for ovarian cancer, you may be tested several times. If your CA-125 levels have decreased due to testing, it usually implies your cancer is responding to treatment. If your levels increase or remain unchanged, it could indicate that your cancer is not responding to treatment. If you have completed your ovarian cancer treatment, elevated CA-125 levels could indicate that your cancer has returned. If you haven't been treated for ovarian cancer and your CA-125 levels are high, it could be a sign of underlying cancer. However, it could also indicate a noncancerous condition, such as:

  • Endometriosis:  a condition in which tissue that usually grows inside the uterus also expands outside of it and becomes excruciatingly uncomfortable, causing difficulties to conceive.
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: An infection of a woman's reproductive organs caused mainly by sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia
  • Fibroids in the uterus:  noncancerous growths in the uterus.
  • Liver Diseases
  • Cancers of the pancreas, lungs, and breasts
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstruation

Related Tests: BRCA gene testing, Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA), HE4

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