Detection of ovarian cancer at an early stage should reduce the mortality associated with this disease. Through the Stockholm Population Registry, 5550 apparently healthy women were enrolled in a study designed in part to define the use of the CA 125 radioimmunoassay (RIA) as an initial test for early detection of ovarian cancer. Women whose CA 125 levels were elevated and an equal number of age-matched controls with normal levels were followed by means of pelvic examinations, transabdominal sonography, and serial CA 125 determinations. Of the 175 women with high CA 125 levels, six were found to have ovarian cancer: two each in stages IA, IIB, and IIIC. Of those with normal-range CA 125 levels, three had ovarian cancer as identified through the Swedish Cancer Registry; all three were under 50 years of age. Ovarian cancer was diagnosed on laparotomy in six of the women age 50 or over. Using thresholds of 30 and 35 U/mL, the rates of specificity for the CA 125 RIA were 97 and 98.5%, respectively, for women age 50 or older, and 91 and 94.5%, respectively, for those younger than 50 years of age. Thus, the specificity of the CA 125 RIA is adequate in postmenopausal women to undertake a larger study to determine whether screening using CA 125 influences survival of patients with ovarian cancer.