Plasma cell-free DNA methylation analysis for ovarian cancer detection: Analysis of samples from a case-control study and an ovarian cancer screening trial

Int J Cancer. 2024 Feb 15;154(4):679-691. doi: 10.1002/ijc.34757. Epub 2023 Oct 20.


Analysis of cell-free DNA methylation (cfDNAme), alone or combined with CA125, could help to detect ovarian cancers earlier and may reduce mortality. We assessed cfDNAme in regions of ZNF154, C2CD4D and WNT6 via targeted bisulfite sequencing in diagnostic and early detection (preceding diagnosis) settings. Diagnostic samples were obtained via prospective blood collection in cell-free DNA tubes in a convenience series of patients with a pelvic mass. Early detection samples were matched case-control samples derived from the UK Familial Ovarian Cancer Screening Study (UKFOCSS). In the diagnostic set (ncases = 27, ncontrols = 41), the specificity of cfDNAme was 97.6% (95% CI: 87.1%-99.9%). High-risk cancers were detected with a sensitivity of 80% (56.3%-94.3%). Combination of cfDNAme and CA125 resulted in a sensitivity of 94.4% (72.7%-99.9%) for high-risk cancers. Despite technical issues in the early detection set (ncases = 29, ncontrols = 29), the specificity of cfDNAme was 100% (88.1%-100.0%). We detected 27.3% (6.0%-61.0%) of high-risk cases with relatively lower genomic DNA (gDNA) contamination. The sensitivity rose to 33.3% (7.5%-70.1%) in samples taken <1 year before diagnosis. We detected ovarian cancer in several patients up to 1 year before diagnosis despite technical limitations associated with archival samples (UKFOCSS). Combined cfDNAme and CA125 assessment may improve ovarian cancer screening in high-risk populations, but future large-scale prospective studies will be required to validate current findings.

Keywords: cell-free DNA; diagnosis; methylation; ovarian cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • CA-125 Antigen
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Ovarian Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Prospective Studies


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CA-125 Antigen
  • ZNF154 protein, human
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors