Interpretation of single and serial measures of HE4 and CA125 in asymptomatic women at high risk for ovarian cancer.


Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) is approved for clinical use with CA125 to predict epithelial ovarian cancer in women with a pelvic mass or in remission after chemotherapy. Previously reported reference ranges for HE4 are inconsistent.

We report positivity thresholds yielding 90%, 95%, 98%, and 99% specificity for age-defined populations of healthy women for HE4, CA125, and Risk of Ovarian Malignancy Algorithm (ROMA), a weighted average of HE4 and CA125. HE4 and CA125 were measured in 1,780 samples from 778 healthy women aged >25 years with a documented deleterious mutation, or aged >35 years with a significant family history. Effects on marker levels of a woman's age, ethnicity, and epidemiologic characteristics were estimated, as were the population-specific means, variances, and within- and between-woman variances used to generate longitudinal screening algorithms for these markers.

CA125 levels were lower with Black ethnicity (P = 0.008). Smoking was associated with higher HE4 (P = 0.007) and ROMA (P < 0.019). Continuous oral contraceptive use decreased levels of CA125 (P = 0.041), and ROMA (P = 0.12). CA125 was lower in women age ≥55, and HE4 increased with age (P < 0.01), particularly among women age ≥55.

Because of the strong effect of age on HE4, thresholds for HE4 are best defined for women of specific ages. Age-specific population thresholds for HE4 for 95% specificity ranged from 41.4 pmol/L for women age 30 to 82.1 pmol/L for women age 80.

Incorporation of serial marker values from screening history reduces personalized thresholds for CA125 and HE4 but is inappropriate for ROMA.

  • Daly MB
  • Drescher CW
  • Karlan BY
  • McIntosh MW
  • Paley P
  • Palomares MR
  • Thorpe J
  • Urban N
PubMed ID
Appears In
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2012, 21 (11)