Possible Sign of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer linked with high blood calcium levels

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) What if a blood test could flag a greater risk for ovarian cancer? Testing for blood calcium levels is a pretty simple process and may someday be a helpful tool in diagnosing ovarian cancer

A recent study looked at two larger studies for links between calcium levels in the body and ovarian cancer. The study’s results pointed to a link between ovarian cancer and higher levels of total calcium and protein-bonded calcium in the body. 

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Gary G. Schwartz, PhD, cancer epidemiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and Halcyon G. Skinner, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, worked together to investigate the role of blood calcium levels in ovarian cancer.

Dr. Skinner said, “Everyone’s got calcium and the body regulates it very tightly. We know that some rare forms of ovarian cancer are associated with very high calcium, so it’s worth considering whether more common ovarian cancers are associated with moderately high calcium.”

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect until the cancer has become advanced. Scientists have been researching ways to improve early detection, which could help improve successful treatment rates and lower mortality. A simple blood test for high levels of calcium might help doctors catch ovarian cancer in its early stages.

Calcium levels in the body can be measured in two ways: total calcium and ionized serum calcium. Total calcium is literally how much calcium there is in each liter of blood. Ionized serum calcium has to do with the amount of calcium that has bonded with the protein called serum albumin in each liter of blood.

Authors said, "Many ovarian cancers express parathyroid hormone-related protein, which acts to raise calcium levels in serum."

For this study, researchers looked at total and ionized serum calcium and ovarian cancer death rates in two large national studies.

In the first study, only 11 deaths from ovarian cancer were found, but the risk of dying from ovarian cancer was found to be 52 percent higher for each 0.1 mmol/L increase in total calcium and 144 percent higher for each 0.1 mmol/L increase in ionized serum calcium.

In the second study, only ovarian cancers were found. Researchers calculated a 63 percent higher risk for ovarian cancer with each 0.1 mmol/L increase in total calcium levels.

Authors said they found ionized serum calcium to be a risk for ovarian cancer in the second study as well.

Authors concluded, “Higher serum calcium may be a biomarker of ovarian cancer.”

The results of this study would need to be repeated in other studies before certainty about calcium levels indicating ovarian cancer could be stated.

Elevated levels of calcium in the blood is called hypercalcemia, and can be a sign of medical conditions other than cancer. 

This study was published in January in Gynecologic Oncology.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health provided funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 23, 2013
Last Updated:
January 27, 2013