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What does Elevated CA-125 Mean?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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If a blood test shows an elevated CA-125, it can be suggestive of a number of different things, depending on other information about the patient that will have been collected during an examination. Levels of this protein in the blood are most commonly checked in connection with ovarian cancer treatment or diagnosis, and elevated levels can mean that a patient has ovarian cancer or that a cancer is recurring. However, false positives do happen. The CA-125 test is not intended to be used as a standalone diagnostic tool.

CA-125 is a protein that is produced primarily in cancer cells. It is associated most commonly with ovarian cancer, although other cancers can cause an elevated CA-125 as well. In addition, other malignant or benign conditions ranging from endometriosis to a regular menstrual period can also be linked with higher CA-125 levels. Test results are most meaningful in women with a history of ovarian cancer or women with a high risk of cancer.

If an elevated CA-125 is connected with significant clinical findings on an ultrasound exam, symptoms such as pain and abnormal bleeding, and a high risk of cancer, it can mean that a woman has ovarian cancer. For women who are in treatment for cancer, elevated results mean that the cancer is not responding to treatment and it is time to discuss other treatment options.

False positives can happen for a number of reasons. If a patient appears otherwise healthy and the test shows elevated CA-125, a repeat test may be ordered. It is also possible to have a false negative. Some women with ovarian cancer do not have an elevated CA-125 and thus will show no signs of cancer on the blood test. Because of the risks of false positives and negatives it is important to combine the test with other diagnostic options.

A second generation test, the CA-125II, may be preferred by some care providers. If doctors plan to compare test results, as may be done while a patient is in treatment for cancer or is being evaluated to check for recurrences of the cancer, they will use the same test type to avoid confusion. If a patient has a history of CA-125II tests, for example, she should be given another second generation test so that the results can be fairly and accurately compared. Lowered results between tests mean that a cancer is responding to treatment or has gone into remission.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Monika — On Aug 25, 2011

@JessicaLynn - That does sound frightening. I'm glad your doctor took the results serious though. What if they didn't look into it and you did have cancer?

One of my aunts had ovarian cancer. Her doctor didn't take her symptoms very seriously at first. When she finally did get this test and a few others done, her CA-125 was very elevated. All the other tests pointed to ovarian cancer, too.

My aunt is fine now, but I can't help but thinking she'd be a lot better if they had caught the cancer a little sooner!

By JessicaLynn — On Aug 24, 2011

I had a pretty bad scare with this a while back! My blood test showed elevated CA-125, so my doctor thought I might have ovarian cancer. We did more tests though, and found that I did not in fact have cancer.

Like the article said, endometriosis can cause elevated levels of CA-125. Well, I happen to have endometriosis! I'm glad my doctor took the test results seriously, but it sure was scary!

By WaterHopper — On Aug 24, 2011

Several years ago, my mother complained of having severe abdominal pain. She went to the doctor and was told she had diverticulitis. They put her on medication and sent her home. The pain continued and worsened. It was so bad she couldn't even stand up straight.

My father insisted that she be seen by a different doctor. She was admitted into the hospital and they started doing all kinds of tests and drawing lots of blood. As it turned out, she had internal bleeding and an increased CA-125. Of course, we didn't know what that meant. However, the fact that they sent an oncologist in, we knew it was bad.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We discussed and pursued treatment options and I am glad to say she is now in remission.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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