Background and objective: Previous studies have shown that serum inhibin as measured by alpha subunit-directed radioimmunoassay (RIA) and inhibin A ELISA was elevated in postmenopausal women with mucinous and granulosa cell cancers, with the RIA showing a more frequent elevation than the inhibin A ELISA. It was thus hypothesised that these cancers may also produce inhibin B or the free alpha subunit. The aim of the study was to identify the forms of inhibin found in a range of ovarian cancers using a range of inhibin assays with varying specificities.
Design: Serum samples obtained from women with ovarian cancer were assayed by inhibin B ELISA and Pro-alpha C subunit ELISA and compared with inhibin RIA and inhibin A ELISA.
Patients: Blood samples were obtained from 34 postmenopausal women (> 55 years) with no history of endocrine disease and from women with ovarian serous cystadenocarcinomas (n = 66), mucinous cystadenocarcinomas (n = 20), granulosa cell tumours (n = 9-11), miscellaneous ovarian cancers (n = 46) and non ovarian cancers (n = 23).
Measurements: Inhibin B and inhibin Pro-alpha C subunit levels were determined by ELISA and compared to values obtained by RIA and inhibin A ELISA. Cancers were discriminated from controls based on values obtained 2SD above the geometric mean of the control values.
Results: Granulosa cell tumours were detected by RIA and inhibin B ELISA (100%), Pro-alpha C ELISA (90%) and inhibin A ELISA (77%). Mucinous tumours were detected by RIA (70%), inhibin B ELISA (60%), Pro-alpha C ELISA (55%) and inhibin A (20%). Serous tumours were detected by RIA (35%) and the other assays (< 15%). Miscellaneous tumours were detected by RIA (41%) and other assays < 30%.
Conclusions: Ovarian neoplasms may produce a variety of peptides related to the inhibins, including dimeric inhibin A and B. Inhibin B is detected in more ovarian cancers than inhibin A but does not discriminate as well as the alpha subunit directed assays. The higher discrimination index obtained with the RIA compared to the Pro-alpha C ELISA suggests that assays detecting all inhibin forms containing the alpha subunit and not just those detecting the Pro-alpha C subunit will provide the most useful detection method.