OBJECTIVE: To assess the risk-of-malignancy index (a scoring system based on menopausal status, ultrasound features, and serum CA 125) at district hospitals for referral of women with suspected malignant pelvic masses for primary surgery at a central gynecologic oncology unit. METHODS: All seven hospitals in Health Region IV, Norway, agreed to refer women with pelvic masses and risk-of-malignancy indices of 200 or more for centralized primary surgery. In total, 365 women 30 years of age or older, admitted consecutively at the local hospitals, were enrolled in the study from February 1, 1995, to January 31, 1997. RESULTS: Compliance with the study was satisfactory; 84% (65 of 77) of women with risk-of-malignancy indices of at least 200 were referred for centralized primary surgery. Sensitivity and specificity to malignancy were 71% and 92%, respectively, which is in agreement with previous validation of the risk-of-malignancy index in teaching hospital settings. False negatives were due mainly to stage Ia (18 of 24) ovarian cancer, whereas 27 of 28 stage II-IV ovarian cancer cases were identified correctly. CONCLUSION: The risk-of-malignancy index identified women with malignant pelvic masses efficiently. Our study showed the risk-of-malignancy index strategy in a practical setting to be able to centralize primary surgery for advanced ovarian cancer from local hospitals to a subspecialty unit. We recommend the risk-of-malignancy index for detection of patients with advanced ovarian cancer for centralized primary surgery.