Inhibins/activins as diagnostic markers for ovarian cancer

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2002 May 31;191(1):97-103. doi: 10.1016/s0303-7207(02)00060-6.


It is widely recognised that the early detection and subsequent assessment of recurrence of ovarian cancers are key steps for successful treatment. Available serum markers (e.g. CA125) are sensitive for some epithelial carcinomas (e.g. serous, endometrioid, clear cell), however, these markers are less sensitive for granulosa cell tumours and mucinous carcinomas. Serum inhibin is an ovarian product which decreases to non detectable levels after menopause, however, certain ovarian cancers (mucinous carcinomas and sex cord stromal tumours such as granulosa cell tumours) continue to produce inhibin which provides a basis for a serum diagnostic test. Studies from this and other laboratories have investigated the suitability of inhibin as a diagnostic marker by identifying which inhibin (inhibin A (alphabetaA), inhibin B (alphabetaB), free alpha subunit) or activin (betaAbetaA) form is associated with these cancers. Available data show that inhibin assays which detect all inhibin forms, i.e. assays which detect the alpha subunit both as the free form and as an alphabeta subunit dimer provide the highest sensitivity/specificity characteristics as an ovarian cancer diagnostic test. This review will discuss the data supporting these observations and show recent studies in which a new alpha subunit monoclonal antibody-based ELISA is used as a potential diagnostic test. Furthermore, based on the high sensitivity/specificity characteristics of the respective assays for the various types of ovarian cancer, the combination of the inhibin assay with CA125 detects the majority of all ovarian cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activins / blood*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Granulosa Cell Tumor / blood
  • Granulosa Cell Tumor / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Inhibins / blood*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / blood
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Protein Subunits
  • Activins
  • Inhibins
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone