Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis


General Diagnostic Tests

If you are experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer and your doctor deems it appropriate, he or she may perform the following tests, as well as others, to aid the processing of diagnosing ovarian cancer. However, surgery is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove all visible tumors and signs of cancer and to follow with chemotherapy.

Click below to read about some of the tests used in ovarian cancer diagnosis.

During an abdominal exam, the doctor will physically feel ("palpate") parts of your belly to check the size of your organs, whether they cause pain, and whether there is any fluid buildup. In a pelvic exam, the doctor will check your vagina and cervix, and will feel for abnormalities in your ovaries and uterus.

For a transvaginal ultrasound, a doctor will insert a probe into your vagina; it sends out sound waves to take pictures of your ovaries. This test is used for women at a high risk for ovarian cancer or for women with an abnormal physical exam.

A CA-125 test is not accurate enough to be considered a screening test for ovarian cancer. CA-125 is a tumor marker, or a substance in the body that can be a sign of a cancerous tumor. The CA-125 test measures the amount of this substance in the blood; it is performed along with other tests or exams to help make a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and may be performed during and/or after treatment to check progress. It is not always a key indicator for ovarian cancer and may produce false positives or negatives.

Click below to find out what symptoms and tests are usually involved in making a diagnosis of a particular type of ovarian cancer.

By Type

Symptoms or a physican exam may raise the suspicion of epithelial ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal cancer. While there is no one hallmark sign of ovarian cancer, patients frequently report bloating, feeling full sooner than usual, urinary changes or pelvic pain. During a pelvic exam a doctor or nurse will feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries to detect any abnormalities.

Transvaginal ultrasound is the best test for visualizing the ovaries. Additionally, CT scan, PET scan, or MRI can provide information about whether other organs are involved. A blood test called CA 125 can also be used to diagnose these types of cancer. An increased level of CA 125, released by cells in the blood, can be a sign of cancer, which is why it is called a tumor marker, but the test has false positives and false negatives.

A biopsy, removing cells or tissues for a pathologist to view under a microscope, can diagnose epithelial or primary peritoneal ovarian cancer. The biopsy is typically performed during surgery to remove the tumor or it can be performed by a radiologist

Women with germ cell tumors experience abdominal pain in many cases, leading them to visit their doctors and be diagnosed early. If women experience swelling of the abdomen without weight gain or bleeding after menopause, they should check in with their doctors, as these can be signs of ovarian germ cell tumors. Germ cell cancers are diagnosed surgically.

Since sex cord–stromal tumors produce an excess of hormones, symptoms can appear early, and patients tend to be diagnosed at an early stage. These types of tumors can occur from early puberty to post-menopause.

Often, a woman’s doctor can feel a mass during a physical examination. Other symptoms leading to diagnosis include vaginal bleeding, ovarian torsion, rupture, or hemorrhage.

Once symptoms are reported to a doctor, transvaginal ultrasound and MRI can be used to evaluate the possibility of sex cord–stromal ovarian cancer.

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