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 »  Traditional Diag...
 » Perspective
 » Acknowledgements
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  Table of Contents  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 51  |  Issue : 7  |  Page : 72-76

Advances in tumor markers of ovarian cancer for early diagnosis

1 Department of Hematology-Oncology and Geriatrics, Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, Tianjin 300020, China
2 Department of Internal Medicine, Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital, Tianjin 300020, China

Date of Web Publication27-Mar-2015

Correspondence Address:
P Lei
Department of Hematology-Oncology and Geriatrics, Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, Tianjin 300020
W Zhang
Department of Hematology-Oncology and Geriatrics, Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, Tianjin 300020
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-509X.154049

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 » Abstract 

Ovarian cancer often occurs in perimenopausal women. The mortality of ovarian cancer is in the first place among gynecological cancers because of no obvious early symptoms and the lack of effective diagnostic approach. Gene chips, proteomics, immunohistochemistry and other methods have become hot topics for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer. However, due to the variety of pathology and not clear enough of mechanism and etiology, there is still no ideal tumor markers with both high specific and sensitivity, which can be applied into clinical early diagnosis for ovarian cancer. Therefore, a new systematic method with high sensitivity and specificity for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer and new tumor markers need to be identified. We should make an examination of ovarian cancer in the early period in the crowd for early diagnosis and early treatment to further improve life quality of patients. This paper reviewed the recent advancements of tumor markers for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Keywords: Early diagnosis, ovarian tumor, tumor marker

How to cite this article:
Dong X, Men X, Zhang W, Lei P. Advances in tumor markers of ovarian cancer for early diagnosis. Indian J Cancer 2014;51, Suppl S3:72-6

How to cite this URL:
Dong X, Men X, Zhang W, Lei P. Advances in tumor markers of ovarian cancer for early diagnosis. Indian J Cancer [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Nov 29];51, Suppl S3:72-6. Available from:

FNx01Xifeng Dong and Xiaoyan Men contribute equally to this work

 » Introduction Top

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common tumor in females of the world. [1] China has gradually entered the aging society and ovarian cancer incidence increased year by year. [2] Its mortality rate ranked to first in gynecological tumors. The occurrence of ovarian cancer had a trend of younger in recent years. [3],[4],[5] Due to no obvious clinical symptoms in the early period, most ovarian cancer was found at later period. The main screening methods are transvaginal ultrasonography, serum CA-125 and so on. [6] Clinical practice revealed that these approaches had some limitations. Therefore, finding reliable tumor markers for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is urgent. This paper reviewed the research progress of tumor markers for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

 » Status of Diagnosis and Treatment of Ovarian Cancer Top

Ovarian cancer often occurs in perimenopausal women. The incidence of ovarian cancer ranked the third among female cancer, only after cervical cancer and endometrial cancer. [7] About 60-70% of ovarian cancer patients are already in phase III-IV or with abdominal metastasis when diagnosed. [8],[9] Ovarian cancer is often asymptomatic in the early period and in the later period patient will have abdominal distension, abdominal mass, gastrointestinal symptoms and symptoms related to tumor infiltration or compression. Although the treatments like surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are continuous improved, the 5-year survival rate is still around 30%, and the prognosis is poor. [10] According to statistics, the number of new ovarian cancer cases was estimated at 21,980, and the deaths were estimated as high as 14,270 in the US in 2014. [1] A 5-year survival rate of patients with stage I ovarian cancer can be as high as >90% and the majority of them can be cured by surgery. [11] And therefore early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is the key to improving the 5-year survival rate of patients. It is demonstrated that 77% of endometrial cancer, 55% of breast cancer and 83% of cervical cancer can be early diagnosed through related examinations; however, only 23% of ovarian cancer can be early diagnosed. [12] Therefore, the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is still in the research, and there is no definite markers, which can be used in clinical. This showed that if ovarian cancer can be screened in healthy people for early diagnosis and early treatment, the life quality of patients with ovarian cancer can be improved, and survival can be prolonged.

Screening of tumor markers through gene chip technology

Gene chip technology has been widely used in many field, including tumor-related gene research, tumor gene expression profile analysis, tumor molecular classification and tumor gene mutations. It has a great advantage on the study of tumor biology. In recent years, this technology has also been used in ovarian cancer research. [13] The advantage of gene chip technology is that, it can analyze the expression of thousands of genes simultaneously. So we can detect differentially expressed genes by comparing the serum or tissue of patients with ovarian cancer, healthy people and patients with benign tumors. Studies found abnormal methylation of DNA were closely related with tumor development. [14],[15] And different tumors had their specific patterns of abnormal methylation of DNA. So difference methylated hybridization based on chip technology will be the new direction of cancer research. The changes of cancer cells in 5-methylcytosine terminal are mainly hypomethylation of DNA and hypermethylation of CpG Islands. [16] Gene methylation is mainly caused by methylation of normal silencing repetitive sequence. Activation of oncogene transcripts, and activation of latent transposon or chromosomal instability lead to hypomethylation of gene. While the abnormal DNA of CpG island appears hypermethylation and histone modifications. These events result in the nonactivated state of transcription and gene silence. This change is likely to be an early event in tumorigenesis. [17] So based on this feature, methylated genes may be detected and verified to make sure if it can be applied in clinical. Some scholars use this method to detect tissues of ovarian cancer. [18],[19],[20] The abnormal methylations of SFN, TMS1, and WT1 occurs frequently in ovarian clear cell adenocarcinoma. [21] And the methylation is different between low-grade malignant and highly malignant ovarian cancer. Abnormal methylation of RASSF1A, APC, GSTP1 and MGMT are found in low malignant ovarian cancer. [22] Moreover, heterochromatin hypomethylation and remodeling are commonly occurred near the centromeres of the 1 st and the 16 th chromosome in ovarian cancer. [23] A recent research detected the abnormal DNA methylation sites in tumor tissues from patients with primary epithelial ovarian cancer or benign ovarian diseases. 182 hypermethylation sites and 64 hypomethylation sites have been screened, and cytosine-phosphate-guanosine islands of EGFLAM, LSM2 and CDKN2A promoters were found to be hypomethylation, which may be potential tumor markers ovarian cancer. [24]

Advantages of DNA methylation investigations are as follows: First, DNA has better chemical stability than RNA and protein. Even low concentrations of methylation can be amplified using polymerase chain reaction technology to verification. [25] In addition, the amplify is limited to a single region rather than screening the entire mutated gene, which not only saves supplies, but also has highly targeted. The most important point is the material in serum. Serum is easy to be obtained, and this test meets the condition of clinical screening. This is a new approach in the current applications to test the stability of screened abnormal methylated genes. In addition, although there are many studies on gene methylation of ovarian cancer, the results are not consistent. Considering the differences of prevalence populations, types of ovarian cancer, the differences of experimental platforms and designs, the methylated gene or silence gene of ovarian cancer is still not clear. Therefore, the sample size needs to be increased, and the standard of experimental platform need to be consistent in future experiments to clear differentially methylated gene.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are high-risk genes of ovarian cancer. Jazaeri. [26] test patients with ovarian cancer through cDNA gene chip methods, including 18 cases carrying high-risk BRCA1 gene and 16 cases carrying BRCA2 gene. Totally, 110 differentially expressed genes were detected. Ovarian cancer carrying BRCA-1 gene is highly correlated with AKT1 and UBL1 while lowly correlated with PTEN. However, ovarian cancer carrying BRCA-2 gene is closely associated with WNT2, SFRP4 and lowly correlated with PTEN. Further studies indicated that there is a strong correlation between BRCA-1 gene silence and highly differentiated ovarian cancer. [27],[28] So this method can screen healthy people that carry high-risk genes to reduce their risks of having ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, the application of this method has some limitations. Screening objects only include a population with high-risk factors, rather than the general population. So it is not the best screening approach.

Serum proteomics screening tumor markers

Serum proteomics is a study based on proteome. It studies expression profiles of all proteins in the body on a particular state through appropriate protein analysis technology. Serum proteomics is widely used in screening and identification of tumor markers. And it has showed significant theoretical value and broad clinical application. Petricoin et al. [29] got five differential genes through flight mass spectrometry (MS) in 2002. And they analyzed serum proteins of 50 patients with ovarian cancer and 66 healthy women by C16 hydrophobic protein chip. This proteomic pattern can be used to analysis and distinguish populations with benign ovarian tumors or with cancers and healthy people. The sensitivity is 100%, and the specificity is 95%. [29],[30] Since then many scholars at home or abroad screened differential gene of ovarian cancer through different MS. Russian scholars established diagnosis model through Clinprotools system, and the diagnostic sensitivity could be achieved to 100%. [31] Another research compared serum protein profiles from 36 epithelial ovarian cancer cases with 30 healthy controls using surface-enhanced laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight (TOF)-MS, obtained 15 peaks up-regulated and 14 down-regulated with 100% sensitivity and 93.33% specificity, indicating that this approach is useful to diagnose ovarian cancer. [32]

Immunohistochemistry screening tumor markers

There are many types of ovarian cancer. Research found that different kinds of ovarian cancers have their unique tumor markers. For example, the expression level of follistatin was highest in mucinous ovarian cancer, followed by ovarian endometrioid adenocarcinoma, clear cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, serous carcinoma. [33] Therefore, ovarian cancer should be studied according to different types to determine the specific tumor markers of each kind of ovarian cancer. Mucinous ovarian cancer accounts for 12-15% of ovarian cancers, and compared with other types of epithelial ovarian cancer, mucinous ovarian cancer is a significant difference clinically and morphologically. Autoantibodies sequence can be used to clear biomarkers in the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer. [34],[35] Increasing studies focused on this hot issue. It has been found that titers of 9 autoantibodies were significantly increased in the early period of mucinous ovarian cancer. And 8 autoantibodies among them were found overexpressed by immunohistochemical methods. [35] T cells and antibodies belonging to the immune system in cancer patients will response to tumor antigen. So the detection of autoantibodies has a certain role to the detection of biomarkers. And the detection can reveal that this special antigen plays an important role in the pathophysiology of cancer. So the detection of autoantibodies no doubt will become a new method to early diagnosing ovarian cancer. However, there are only a few researches on this field currently, and the researches are all targeted at mucinous ovarian cancer. Research of other types of ovarian cancer one this area has not been reported.

B7-H4 and lysophosphatidic acid

So far although there are many research methods, markers that can be used in clinical are still not established. B7-H4 and lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) are two markers that have gotten more attention recently. B7-H4 is a new member of T cell costimulatory molecule B7 family, which has been recently discovered. B7-H4 can reduce T cell immunity through inhibiting proliferation of T cells, synthesis of cytokines and cell cycle progression. [36] Many studies on the expression of B7-H4 in ovarian cancer suggested that the expression was significantly higher in ovarian cancer while in normal ovarian tissue B7-H4 was hardly expressed. [37],[38],[39],[40],[41] And therefore, it can be considered as an important marker for early-stage ovarian cancer diagnosis. Moore et al. detected serum proteins and found that human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) has the highest sensitivity in diagnosing phase I/II ovarian cancer. The sensitivity was up to 62.4-82.7% and the specificity was up to 96%. Therefore, some researchers believed that so far HE4 is a marker with high sensitivity for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer. [42]

lysophosphatidic acid in plasma is a recently discovered tumor marker. Its plasma concentration is significantly different between benign and malignant tumors. LPA has three subtypes: LPA1, LPA2, and LPA3. Wang et al., identified that LPA was highly expressed in ovarian cancer and LPA can stimulate growth and metastasis of ovarian cancer cells. [43] And it was confirmed that LPA could be a screening marker. [44] Others have found that the plasma level of LPA in patients with stage I ovarian cancer was nearly 3 times higher than that in patients with benign ovarian tumors and 7 times higher than that in healthy control group, which further confirmed the reliability of LPA as a tumor marker. [45],[46] Despite these, the applications of these two tumor markers in clinical for early-stage ovarian cancer screening needs to be further confirmed.

 » Traditional Diagnostic Approaches for Ovarian Cancer Top

Currently, traditional methods for screening or diagnosing ovarian cancer mainly include serum CA-125, color Doppler ultrasound, laparoscopy, cytologic examination and so on. [47],[48],[49] Due to the diagnosis rate for early-stage ovarian cancer through single method is not high, combinative application is often needed. [50],[51] However, the economic burden on patients is increased.

Testing of serum CA-125

CA-125 is currently considered to be the best and the most widely used tumor marker for ovarian cancer. [52] About 80% of patients with advanced ovarian cancer have the elevation of CA-125. But only 50-60% of patients with early-stage ovarian cancer have the increased CA-125. In addition, single CA-125 detection may cause false positive, due to that increase of CA-125 have also been found in other cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer. [53],[54],[55],[56],[57] And diverticulitis, cirrhotic, endometriosis and other benign diseases may also produce a high level of CA-125. [58],[59] In some physiological conditions, the level of CA-125 may be elevated such as in menstruation or pregnancy. [60] So only CA-125 can't be an early indicator for screening ovarian cancer. [61] And CA-125 is strongly associated with serous ovarian cancer while it is not significantly associated with other ovarian tumors, such as mucinous ovarian cancer. [62] So it has some limitations. New biological indicators for early warning or diagnosis of ovarian cancer are needed to be found further.

Transvaginal ultrasonography

Transvaginal ultrasonography can observe morphology of ovarian more clearly. It can suggest the degree of malignancy of ovarian cancer to a certain extent. Many studies suggested transvaginal ultrasonography can be used as a method for screening early-stage ovarian cancer. [63] Currently, ovarian morphology scoring system is often applied to assess ovarian cancer. The results showed the sensitivity was up to 98.1%, and the specificity was up to 80.8%. The positive predictive value was 40.9%, and the negative predictive value was 99.1%. But this scoring system has no uniform standards. And there is no case-control study with a large sample to clear if there is statistically significant difference with other methods. There are a lot of neovascularization in cancer. So we can detect the pulsatility index and resistance index by Doppler. It can diagnose ovarian cancer >2 cm. For ovarian cancer <2 cm, the effect of screening is not clear. [64]

In addition, laparoscopy can be performed if ovarian tumor was found. This is an invasive examination and can't be a routine screening method. Currently, the most effective screening method is considered with a minimum positive predictive value and specificity, which are >90% and combined diagnosis is best.

 » Perspective Top

Ovarian cancer is one of the three severe cancers in female reproductive system malignancy. Currently, surgical treatment, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, bio-targeted therapy and other technologies have improved. But the long-term survival rate is still low. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment are very important. In recent years, many scholars at home and abroad explored the methods and indicators for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer through a variety of methods. Ideal tumor marker should reflect tumor growth and metastasis with a quantitative relationship. It should have high sensitivity and high specificity. It should be noninvasive, reproducible, inexpensive and easy to be accepted. Therefore, early diagnosis of ovarian cancer still needs further exploration. The further research can be proteomics and bioinformatics of serum and tissue samples using the currently advanced liquid chip-TOF MS technology for identification and extraction of new biomarkers spectrum. In addition, the immune system will change if the body has a tumor. So we can test the quantity and index of immune cell subsets in peripheral blood through flow cytometry and establish early warning indicators for immune status of ovarian cancer. And we can select clinical-sensitive imaging diagnostic methods, pathology, examination, and clinical data to establish an integrated, relatively specific indicator system for tumor early warning. And then we can improve the early warning and early diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

 » Acknowledgements Top

This project is supported by Tianjin Health Bureu (No. 2011KZ116, no. 2010KZ106), Tianjin Natural Science Foundation (No.14JCYBJC27800, no. 10JCYBJC23700).

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