CA 125 levels were measured in 158 patients with palpable pelvic masses who were about to undergo diagnostic laparotomy. When the 68 patients found to have cancer were compared with the 90 patients with benign disease, those with malignancies were significantly older, were more frequently postmenopausal, and had significantly higher values of serum CA 125. Patients with benign pelvic masses had CA 125 levels greater than 65 U/ml in 8% of cases, whereas those with malignancies had CA 125 levels greater than 65 U/ml in 75% of cases. If only those patients who had frankly malignant, primary, nonmucinous epithelial ovarian carcinomas were considered, CA 125 levels greater than 65 U/ml predicted malignancy with a sensitivity of 91% for all patients. Greater sensitivity and specificity were observed in the postmenopausal subgroup than in the premenopausal subgroup. In the postmenopausal group with a 63% prevalence of ovarian cancer the predictive positive value was 98% and the predictive value negative was 72%. In a premenopausal population with a 15% prevalence of ovarian cancer the predictive value for a positive test was 49%, while the predictive value for a negative test was 93%.