Immunohistochemistry of CA 125. Unusual expression in normal tissues, distribution in the human fetus and questions around its application in diagnostic pathology

Int J Biol Markers. Oct-Dec 1998;13(4):210-5.


CA 125 is known as the marker that is most strongly associated with epithelial gynecological tumors. Compared to the number of publications on its use in serum assays, the application in immunohistochemistry is still limited. The availability of many good antibodies that perform well in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue opens good possibilities for a wider use. Outside the gynecological tract several other structures may react positive for CA 125. Among these are the lung and breast but also the epithelial cells of the conjunctiva and to some extent prostate glandular epithelium. In the fetus reactions can be found in the serosal linings of body cavities but also in the esophagus and skin. In diagnostic pathology CA 125 plays a role in identifying the primary locations of metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin. It is recommended to use CA 125 antibodies not in a solitary setting but in combination with CEA, BRST-2 and Vimentin to discriminate best between the most frequent sites of origin of metastatic carcinoma. Regular analysis of sensitivity/specificity ratios in a balanced population, representing the composition of the patient population seen in daily practice, should be performed to evaluate the position of CA 125 in diagnostic immunohistochemistry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • CA-125 Antigen / analysis*
  • CA-125 Antigen / genetics*
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / analysis
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development*
  • Fetus / cytology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / classification
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Reference Values


  • CA-125 Antigen
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen