Diagnostic Tests For Ovarian Cancer

As yet, there are no standard tests available by which we can screen for ovarian cancer. The tests that do exist are not very reliable and may not find ovarian cancer in time for successful therapy. For these reasons, doctors don't do routine screening for the cancer. The risk in the general female population for ovarian cancer is only 1.5%, not high enough to warrant the risk from tests that are often less than effective and which carry their own dangers.

Risk Factors

But there are risk factors which can raise a woman's vulnerability for the disease to alarming levels. An increased risk factor in combination with symptoms that last beyond a few weeks may lead your doctor to decide to perform an examination for ovarian cancer. Here are some of the tests that can help to diagnose ovarian cancer.

*Pelvic examination—Your vagina, uterus, rectum, and pelvis are examined by your doctor for growths or masses. If you've undergone a hysterectomy but still retain your ovaries, you should keep having routine pelvic exams.

*Ultrasound—Ultrasound images are a great, noninvasive way to get a good picture of your insides. The downside is that an ultrasound image can't distinguish a benign growth from one that's cancerous. On the other hand, ultrasound can be used to identify the presence of fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites), which can suggest a need for further testing. Ascites are found in many gynecological conditions, of which ovarian cancer is just one.

Blood Protein

*CA 125 blood test—CA 125 is a protein your body produces in response to one of several conditions. Women with ovarian cancer tend to have high levels of this protein in their blood. The test isn't considered a routine screening test because the blood levels of the protein can also rise due to many non-cancerous conditions. The test isn't even very helpful for ovarian cancer screening, since women with early stage, treatable cancer often have normal CA 125 levels. Only after the cancer advances, does the protein level tend to rise.

Other tests your doctor may decide to perform include computerized tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), both of which provide a more detailed image of your internal workings. Sometimes a doctor will order chest X-rays if he suspects the cancer has spread to the lungs or their surrounding areas. Fluid may be taken from the lining of the lungs, the pleura, and examined for cancer cells.

The ultimate confirmation of ovarian cancer can only be done by performing surgery, usually a laparotomy. During a laparotomy, a gynecologic oncologist cuts into your abdomen so he can get a look at your abdominal cavity. The doctor may take fluid samples or remove an ovary. These will be examined by a pathologist.

Less Invasive

A less invasive procedure, a laparoscopy, is sometimes performed. This procedure requires smaller incisions and is done when a surgeon isn't sure a mass is cancerous. During a laparoscopy, a tissue mass is removed and then evaluated. The hope is that the mass will not be cancerous and a more invasive surgery will not be necessary.


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