Clinical implications of a rising serum CA-125 within the normal range in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer: A preliminary investigation

James L. Wilder, Edward Pavlik, John M. Straughn, Tyler Kirby, Robert V. Higgins, Paul D. DePriest, Frederick R. Ueland, Richard J. Kryscio, Ronald J. Whitley, John Van Nagell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Objective. The goal of this study was to determine the clinical implications of a progressively rising serum CA-125 level in the normal (< 35 U/ml) range in ovarian cancer patients with complete response to therapy. Methods. A multi-institutional investigation was undertaken to identify patients with CA-125-producing epithelial ovarian cancers who experienced progressively rising antigen levels in the normal (<35 U/ml) range after completion of therapy. All patients had (1) histologic documentation of epithelial ovarian cancer and (2) complete clinical remission (CR) as defined by negative imaging studies, normal clinical examination, and a normal (<35 U/ml) serum CA-125 value. All patients had serum CA-125 determinations at 1- to 3-month intervals after treatment. A rising serum CA-125 level was defined as a progressive increase in at least three CA-125 values above the coefficient of variation (CV) for the assay. No patient had a known episode of pelvic or gastrointestinal inflammatory disease during the period when the progressive rise in serum CA-125 took place. Results. Eleven patients with rising serum CA-125 levels in the normal range were identified. Original stage of disease was as follows: stage IIA, 1; stage IIIC, 10. Cell type was as follows: endometrioid adenocarcinoma, 4; serous adenocarcinoma, 6; clear cell carcinoma, 1. Of the 11 patients identified, all developed recurrent ovarian cancer. Tumor recurrence was documented either by new lesions appearing on imaging studies (6/11) or by histologic confirmation (5/11). The mean time from CR to recurrence was 21 months (median = 22, range = 12-33). The mean time from the third early rising serum CA 125 value to clinical or radiographic confirmation of recurrence was 189 days (range = 84-518). All recurrences were intraabdominal with the exception of one axillary recurrence. Conclusion. In patients with a history of ovarian cancer, three progressively rising serum CA-125 values in the normal range (< 35 U/ml) at 1- to 3-month intervals are associated with a high likelihood of tumor recurrence. Patients with such a pattern should undergo immediate investigation to rule out and/or identify recurrent cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-235
Number of pages3
JournalGynecologic Oncology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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