We measured the levels of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), matrix metalloproteinases type 2 and type 9 (MMP-2 and MMP-9) and tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinase 1 and 2 (TIMP-1 and TIMP-2) in the plasma of patients with ovarian carcinoma (n=40), in other gynaecological pathologies (n=30) and in the plasma of healthy volunteers (n=26). MMP-2 and MMP-9 (pro and active forms) gelatinolytic activity was measured by zymography. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) were used to assay soluble VEGF and TIMPs. Preoperative plasma VEGF levels were significantly higher in patients with ovarian cancer than in healthy volunteers (P<0.0001) or patients with a benign gynaecological pathology (P<0.0001). The expression of pro-MMP-9 was higher in the plasma of ovarian cancer patients than in the plasma of women with non-malignant disease (P=0.01) or healthy women (P<0.0002). Pro-MMP-2 was detected in the plasma of ovarian cancer patients, but levels did not differ from those in non-malignant disease or healthy donor samples. Plasma TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 levels were significantly higher in patients with ovarian carcinomas than in healthy volunteers (P<0.0001 and P=0.006, respectively) or in the patients with a non-malignant pathology (P<0.0001 and P=0.002, respectively). Sub-group analysis showed that VEGF and pro-MMP-9 were higher in the plasma of patients with serous carcinomas than other histological types. Furthermore, plasma VEGF and pro-MMP-9 levels were higher in the plasma of cancer patients with thrombocytosis. Throughout the study, and in the univariate analysis, no correlation was found between the VEGF, MMP and TIMP levels. Only TIMP-1 was associated with a poor survival and mortality risk.