Ovarian cancer tumor markers are proteins that cancer cells produce. Healthcare professionals can test tumor marker levels in a person’s bloodstream and use them alongside imaging and biopsy tests as part of the diagnostic process for ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer occurs when the cells in the ovaries begin to grow uncontrollably. This can form tumors within the ovaries, which prompts the body to create certain proteins called tumor markers.
Doctors use blood tests to check the levels of these proteins in a person with suspected ovarian cancer. However, not all individuals with ovarian cancer have high levels of tumor markers in their blood. Therefore, healthcare professionals need to use other diagnostic tools.
This article is about the types of ovarian cancer tumor markers and how doctors use them to test for ovarian cancer. It will also discuss ovarian cancer tumor types and symptoms.
Tumor markers are proteins that the body can produce in response to tumors. Doctors may test for certain tumor markers if they believe a person has ovarian cancer. They can use these tests alongside imaging screening techniques and tissue sampling.
However, it is important to note that elevated levels of all tumor markers, including carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9),
Below are different types of ovarian cancer tumor marker tests.
Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) is another tumor marker. It
CA 19-9 is another tumor marker. High levels of CA 19-9 have associations with some ovarian cancers, including clear cell cancers, teratomas, and secondary malignancies.
Borderline tumors are not typically cancerous, as they feature more controlled growth. They are usually not able to spread, but they arise from the same type of cells as ovarian cancer.
Germ cell tumor marker tests
Some ovarian cancers begin in the germ cells. Germs cells are those that can develop into gametes, also known as reproductive cells, such as sperm and eggs. When someone has germ cell ovarian cancer, their body can release certain tumor markers.
- chorionic gonadotropin
- lactate dehydrogenase
Tumor cell marker algorithms
Doctors may ask laboratories to test a person’s blood for several different ovarian cancer tumor markers. Healthcare professionals can use algorithms that combine data from multiple tests to give more definitive results as part of the diagnostic process for ovarian cancer.
These algorithms include the risk of malignancy index and the risk of ovarian malignancy algorithm, the latter of which incorporates data from both CA-125 and HE4 tests.
However, the ACS also notes that ovarian cancer tumor marker tests can be unreliable. This is because not everyone with the disease will produce elevated tumor marker levels.
Conversely, not everyone with elevated tumor marker levels has ovarian cancer. For this reason, these tests are not suitable for ovarian cancer screening, which is when doctors aim to detect presymptomatic ovarian cancer.
The unreliability of ovarian cancer tumor marker tests also means that doctors must use other tests for a reliable diagnosis.
One of these alternative tests is an imaging test, which can detect tumors and determine whether cancer has spread to other body parts. Examples of these imaging tests include:
Biopsies can serve as another test. Although imaging techniques can detect tumors, they cannot differentiate tumors from benign growths. Doctors must perform a biopsy after detecting growths around the ovaries with imaging tests. The biopsy will involve removing some of the growth before testing it for cancer cells in a laboratory.
Ovarian cancer can take several different forms. As the
- Epithelial tumors: Begin from epithelial cells, which cover the ovary’s outer surface. These tumors are the most common kind of ovarian cancer tumor. About 85–90% of cancerous ovarian tumors are epithelial cell tumors.
- Stromal tumors: Begin in the ovary’s stromal cells and comprise about 1% of ovarian cancer tumors. Stromal cells create structural tissue, which holds the ovary together. They also function to produce hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
- Germ cell tumors: Begin in a person’s germ cells, which produce eggs. Less than 2% of ovarian cancer tumors are germ cell tumors.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- abdominal fullness
- changes in bowel movements
- early satiety
- weight loss
- back pain
- pelvic pain
Although these symptoms do not guarantee a person has ovarian cancer, anyone with symptoms should consult a healthcare professional.
Ovarian cancer is when the cells of the ovaries begin to grow uncontrollably. This disease can take several forms and may lead to various symptoms.
These symptoms can help doctors make a correct diagnosis, leading to an appropriate treatment plan.
Although ovarian cancer tumor markers are slightly useful to the diagnostic process, doctors must rely heavily on other techniques to make reliable diagnoses.