How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

Unfortunately, most women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with advanced-stage disease (Stage III). This is because the symptoms of ovarian cancer (particularly in the early stages) often are not acute or intense, and present vaguely. In most cases, ovarian cancer is not detected during routine pelvic exams, unless the doctor notes that the ovary is enlarged. The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better a woman's chance for recovery. It is important to know that early stage symptoms are not silent - so women should be extra alert and watch out for early symptoms.

Potential symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation Menstrual changes

Did You Know?

The Pap test does not detect ovarian cancer. It determines cancer of the cervix.

Screening Tests

Although there is no consistently-reliable screening test to detect ovarian cancer, the following tests are available and should be offered to women, especially those at high risk for ovarian cancer.

  • Pelvic Exam: Women age 18 and above should have a mandatory annual vaginal exam. Women age 35 and above should receive an annual rectovaginal exam (physician inserts fingers in the rectum and vagina simultaneously to feel for abnormal swelling and to detect tenderness).
  • Transvaginal Sonography: This ultrasound, performed with a small instrument placed in the vagina, is appropriate especially for women at high risk for ovarian cancer or for those with an abnormal pelvic exam.
  • CA-125 Test: This blood test determines if the level of CA-125, a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells, has increased in the blood of a woman at high risk for ovarian cancer or with an abnormal pelvic examination.

While CA-125 is an important test, it unfortunately is not always accurate. Some non-cancerous diseases of the ovaries also increase the CA-125 levels, and some ovarian cancers may not produce enough CA-125 levels to cause a positive test.

Positive Tests

If any of these tests are positive, a woman should consult with a gynecologic oncologist who may conduct a CT scan and X-Rays and study the results. However, the only way to more accurately confirm ovarian cancer is with a biopsy, a procedure in which the doctor takes a sample of the tumor and examines it under a microscope.

Research into new ovarian cancer screening tests is ongoing and new diagnostic tests may be on the horizon. NOCC monitors the latest scientific developments, so please come back and visit our site for updates.

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