CA-125 is short for Cancer Antigen 125, a protein that is found in the blood. Also known as MUC16 or Mucin 16, the presence of elevated amounts of this protein can indicate the presence of some type of cancer in the body, including ovarian cancer. Fortunately, identifying elevated levels of MUC16 is a relatively easy process that can be done with a simple blood test.
It is important to note that testing MUC16 levels is not generally the first line of defense when it comes to identifying the presence of any type of cancer. This is because elevated levels of this protein can be triggered by other health issues as well. In most cases a physician will take steps to test for increased CA-125 because there is strong reason to suspect that cancer is present in the ovaries or some other area of the body.
The actual process used to evaluate current MUC16 levels in the bloodstream requires nothing more than a simple blood test. A physician will draw a small amount of blood from the patient and submit the sample to a lab. The lab in turn will prepare an analysis of the composition of the blood, with particular emphasis on any type of markers that the doctor has specifically requested as part of the testing.
The results of the blood test are usually returned in a matter of days, making it possible to determine if the current level of CA-125 supports the doctor’s suspicions about the presence of cancer. If that is the case, the physician is likely to order additional testing to determine if ovarian or some other type of cancer is indeed present somewhere in the body, perhaps using some type of ultrasound or sonogram procedure.
One of the factors that can influence the level of CA-125 in the blood has to do with the age of the female. Women who have not gone through menopause are subject to a number of factors that can cause an elevated level. In contrast, women who have undergone menopause tend to experience fewer factors that have the potential to raise MUC16 levels. Doctors will also take into consideration any other health issues that are present, as well as environmental factors or even personal habits that may cause a temporary increase in MUC16 levels.
In the event that the results of a blood test do indicate that an elevated level of MUC16 is present, it is important to not jump to any conclusions about the presence of cancer. While testing of this type does serve as one indicator that cancer could possibly be present, it is not conclusive. At best, it is one more piece of evidence to consider and possibly use as a reason to order further tests to narrow the focus of the diagnosis. For this reason, women who do have increased levels of this protein should take care to not read too much into the testing, especially if there are other health issues present.