Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer
Several different tests are used to detect ovarian cancer:
Pelvic exam and history
Your doctor feels the ovaries and nearby organs for lumps or other changes in their shape or size. A Pap test is part of a normal pelvic exam, but does not collect ovarian cells. The Pap test detects cervical cancer. It is not used to diagnose ovarian cancer.
The lab may check the level of several substances, including CA-125. CA-125 is found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells and on some normal tissues. A high CA-125 level could be a sign of cancer or other conditions. The CA-125 test is not used alone to diagnose ovarian cancer. This test is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for monitoring a woman's response to ovarian cancer treatment and for detecting its return after treatment.
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to examine organs inside the pelvis. This allows radiologists to distinguish fluid-filled cysts from solid masses and to determine whether solid masses are benign or suspicious. Click here to download our "Diagnostic Ultrasound” brochure. For a better view of the ovaries, a special ultrasound device may be inserted into the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).
CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan
This procedure uses a computer connected to an X-ray machine to obtain detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be used to help visualize organs or tissues more clearly.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
MRI creates a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, using the combination of a powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging.
In this test, a thin, lighted tube is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. Laparoscopy may be used to remove a small, benign cyst or an early ovarian cancer. It may also be used to learn whether cancer has spread.
Tissue samples are examined under the microscope to determine what types of cells are present. Based on the results of the blood tests and ultrasound, your doctor may suggest surgery (a laparotomy) to remove tissue and fluid from the pelvis and abdomen. Surgery is usually needed to diagnose ovarian cancer.