Human Epididymis Protein 4

Test ID: 


CPT code:


Clinical Use:

The assay is used as an aid in monitoring recurrence or progressive disease in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Serial testing for patient HE4 assay values should be used in conjunction with other clinical findings used for monitoring ovarian cancer.

Test Information:

Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) was first identified in the epithelium of the distal epididymis and was originally predicted to be a protease inhibitor involved in sperm maturation.4,5 HE4 is the gene product of the WFDC2 gene that is located on chromosome 20q12-13.1. The WFDC2 gene is one of 14 homologous genes on this chromosome that encode proteins with WAP-type four disulphide core WFDC2) domains.6,7 HE4 belongs to the family of whey acidic four-disulfide core (WFDC2) proteins with suspected trypsin inhibitor properties.8 However, no biological function has so far been identified for HE4.8 The HE4 gene codes for a 13-kD protein, although in its mature glycosylated form the protein is approximately 20−25 kD, and consists of a single peptide and two WFDC domains.

HE4 has been reported to be expressed in a number of normal tissues, including epithelia of respiratory and reproductive tissues. Elevated levels were found in several tumor cell lines, including ovarian, lung, colon, and breast cancer. A number of independent microarray studies have shown that the WFDC2 gene is overexpressed in patients with ovarian carcinoma relative to normal controls. In 2003, Hellstrom and coworkers showed that secreted HE4 was detected in high levels in the serum of ovarian cancer patients. This group found that measurement of HE4 showed sensitivity and specificity comparable to that of CA125 for differentiating postmenopausal women with ovarian cancer from normal controls. They suggested that the HE4 assay might be superior to CA125 in that it is less frequently positive in patients with nonmalignant disease.

Drapkin and coworkers used immunohistochemical techniques to show that cortical inclusion cysts lined by metaplastic Müllerian epithelium abundantly expresses HE4 relative to normal surface epithelium. Using tissue microarrays, they showed that HE4 expression was restricted to certain histologic subtypes of epithelial ovarian carcinomas (EOC). HE4 was expressed in 93% of serous and 100% of endometrioid EOC expressed HE4, whereas only 50% and 0% of clear cell carcinomas and mucinous tumors, respectively, were found positive. This study also revealed that most nonovarian carcinomas do not express HE4, consistent with previous findings that HE4 protein expression is highly restricted in normal tissue of the reproductive tracts and respiratory epithelium.

Moore and coworkers showed that HE4 had a slightly better sensitivity for detecting EOC than CA125. These researchers found that HE4 was particularly superior for detecting stage I disease, with no increase in sensitivity when combined with CA125 or any other marker. Overall they found that combining CA125 and HE4 provided a more accurate predictor of malignancy than either alone. Montagnana and coworkers found that receiver operating characteristics curve analysis on healthy controls and patients with ovarian cancers revealed that HE4 had a significantly higher area under the curve than CA125 (0.99 vs 0.91), with a sensitivity and specificity of 98% and 100%, respectively. Mean HE4 levels were found to be significantly higher in patients with endometrial or ovarian cancer than in patients with ovarian endometriomas or other types of endometriosis. These findings suggest that the HE4 test may be valuable in discriminating ovarian tumors from ovarian endometriotic cysts.

Shaw and coworkers showed that the ability of serum HE4 levels to discriminate ovarian cancer cases from healthy and benign controls is not influenced by risk status.22 Several other studies have indicated that including HE4 in a multivariate analysis of ovarian cancer risk served to improve the accuracy of screening and/or disease monitoring.

Specimen Type:


Requested Volume: 

0.8 mL

Minimum Volume: 

0.4 mL

Container Type: 

Red-top tube or gel-barrier tube

Patient Preparation: 

It is recommended to ask all patients who may be indicated for this test about biotin supplementation. Patients should be cautioned to stop biotin consumption at least 72 hours prior to the collection of a sample.


It is recommended to ask all patients who may be indicated for this test about biotin supplementation. Patients should be cautioned to stop biotin consumption at least 72 hours prior to the collection of a sample.

Storage Instructions:


Stability Requirements:



Room temperature

5 days


14 days


14 days

Freeze/thaw cycles

Stable x3

Rejection Criteria

Nonserum sample received

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