Ovarian Cancer Tests

Tests and screening for ovarian cancer

Precise ovarian cancer tests are crucial for treatment planning, and City of Hope is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and specialized staff to ensure an accurate, comprehensive diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Highlights of our screening and diagnosis services include:

  • Advanced imaging technology to better identify and locate cancerous cells
  • Genetic screening, testing and counseling for women with high ovarian cancer risk
  • Genomic and molecular profiling of the cancer, which can lead to more effective, less toxic treatments

Many of these tests are conveniently offered at our Women’s Center.

How is ovarian cancer detected?

Your doctor may use the following tests to look for ovarian cancer:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests: In addition to standard tests, such as blood cell counts and liver enzyme levels, your doctor may also order tests looking for substances associated with ovarian cancer, such as abnormal hormone levels and various tumor marker proteins, including CA-125, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP).
  • Ultrasound: A small probe is placed on the abdomen or inside the vagina. Sound waves are emitted from the probe to help generate an image of the pelvic region, including any cysts, tumors or abnormal masses within or near the ovaries.
  • Laparoscopy: The test uses a thin, lighted tube that is inserted through a small incision the abdomen. The doctor can then examine the pelvic and abdominal areas for signs of ovarian cancer.
  • Biopsy: Surgical removal of suspicious tissues for further examination
  • Genetic screening: Women with elevated risk factors (such as a family history of breast or ovarian cancers) may undergo genetic screening to see if they have mutations that put them at higher risk for developing the disease.

If cancer is found, additional tests are performed to determine the type and stage of disease. These diagnostic tests include:

  • Genomic testing: The cancerous tissue is tested to see if it exhibits certain genetic mutations or molecular markers, which can be used to help determine disease progression, optimal treatments or identify risk for other cancers.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A test that uses a small amount of radioactive sugar and a PET scanner to locate ovarian cancer cells throughout the body
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan: This test involves taking a series of X-ray images to form a computer-generated image, which determines tumor size, location and spread. Special dyes may be used to enhance this scan.

Based on the results of these tests, the ovarian cancer is then staged according to its size, number of lymph nodes affected and whether it has spread to nearby or distant organs. Generally, ovarian cancer caught in earlier stages will have better outcomes than those caught in advanced or metastasized stages.

What are the current screening guidelines for ovarian cancer?

There are currently no screening guidelines for ovarian cancer, since no screenings have been shown to lower risk of dying from ovarian cancer for women of average risk. However, your physician may recommend more vigorous monitoring if you are at a high risk of developing this disease, which includes:

  • Personal/family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Inherited conditions, such as BRCA gene mutations and Lynch syndrome
  • History of infertility or use of assisted reproductive therapies
  • Using hormone replacement therapy
  • Endometriosis

For high risk groups, monitoring may include transvaginal ultrasound and/or blood test of ovarian cancer markers, such as the CA-125 protein.