What is a CA-125 blood test?
This test measures the amount of a protein called CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) in a sample of your blood. CA-125 is a type of tumor marker. High levels of certain tumor markers in your blood may be a sign of cancer. If you have cancer, measuring certain tumor markers may help provide important information about how to treat your disease.
High levels of CA-125 are often found in people who have ovarian cancer. The ovaries are a pair of female reproductive glands that store ova (eggs) and make female hormones. Ovarian cancer happens when the cells in an ovary begin to grow out of control.
If you have ovarian cancer, CA-125 blood tests can help show whether your treatment is working.
Other names: cancer antigen 125, glycoprotein antigen, ovarian cancer antigen, CA-125 tumor marker
What is it used for?
A CA-125 blood test may be used:
- To see if ovarian cancer treatment is working and to check for ovarian cancer that has come back. This is the most common use of CA-125 blood testing.
- To learn more about a growth or lump in your pelvis (the area below your belly). If a suspicious lump shows up on imaging, such as an ultrasound, your health care provider may check your CA-125 levels along with other tests to find out whether the lump could be ovarian cancer. But a CA-125 blood test alone can't diagnose cancer.
- To screen for ovarian cancer if you're risk is very high. If your family health history includes ovarian cancer, your provider may suggest a CA-125 blood test and other tests to look for signs of cancer. But a CA-125 test is not used as a routine screening test for people who don't have a high risk for ovarian cancer. That's because many common conditions that aren't cancer can also cause high CA-125 levels, such as endometriosis or even a menstrual period.
Why do I need a CA-125 blood test?
If you've been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you may have several CA-125 blood tests:
- During your treatment to see if your cancer is going away. If CA-125 levels go down, it usually means your treatment is working
- After your treatment, to check whether your cancer has returned
If you have a lump in your pelvis that could be ovarian cancer, you may need a CA-125 test to help find out if it could be ovarian cancer. But only a biopsy can diagnose ovarian cancer.
If you have a very high risk of getting ovarian cancer, your health care provider may suggest checking your CA-125 levels. If they're high, you'll probably need more tests to find out if you have cancer. You're more likely to get ovarian cancer if you:
- Have a mother or sister, or two or more other relatives who had ovarian cancer
- Have family members who have had breast cancer or colorectal cancer (colon cancer)
- Have inherited certain gene changes or conditions that increase your risk of ovarian cancer, such as:
- Have had breast, uterine (uterus), or colorectal cancer
If you're concerned about getting ovarian cancer, talk with your provider about your risk.
What happens during a CA-125 blood test?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don't need any special preparations for a CA-125 blood test.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
Your provider will review your CA-125 test results along with other information about your condition. Together, you can discuss how your results affect your diagnosis, treatment, and need for more testing.
- If you are being treated for ovarian cancer, and the results of several tests show that your CA-125 levels are going down, it usually means that the treatment is helping. If your levels go up or stay the same over time, it may mean that the treatment isn't working.
- If you have finished your treatment for ovarian cancer and your CA-125 levels begin to increase over time, your cancer may be coming back.
- If you have a high risk for ovarian cancer or have a suspicious pelvic lump, a high CA-125 levels could be a sign of cancer. Your provider will usually order more tests to make a diagnosis.
A high CA-125 level doesn't always mean cancer. Other conditions may increase CA-125, including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Uterine fibroids
- Liver disease
- Your menstrual period, at certain times during your cycle
A normal CA-125 test result doesn't rule out ovarian cancer. That's because CA-125 levels may be low in the early stages of cancer. And not everyone with ovarian cancer makes high levels of CA-125.
Talk with your provider if you have questions about your results.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
Is there anything else I need to know about a CA-125 blood test?
The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer. If you have been treated for this type of cancer, you may be tested for a tumor marker called HE4 along with CA-125. Some studies show that measuring both tumor markers provides more accurate information to check whether treatment is working and to look for the return of this type of cancer.
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