Finding Ovarian Cancer

Though the field of oncology has come a long way, as of today there are still no standard ovarian cancer screening tests. The tests that doctors utilize for this purpose are unreliable and often fail to find the cancer in time for successful treatment. Since the risk for developing ovarian cancer stands at just 1.5% for most women, it doesn't seem worthwhile to offer undependable tests that come with their own risks. As a result, doctors do not offer routine screening tests for ovarian cancer.

Risk Factors

However, certain risk factors make a woman much more susceptible to this disease. If you have these risk factors along with symptoms lasting longer than a few weeks, your doctor may decide to do some testing for ovarian cancer. These are some of the tests that may help your doctor to diagnose ovarian cancer.

*Pelvic exam—your physician examines your pelvic organs (vagina, uterus, and rectum) for masses or growths. If you've had a hysterectomy but still have your ovaries, it's still important to have routine pelvic exams.

*Ultrasound—the images generated by ultrasound technology help a physician to get a great view of your internal organs. But an ultrasound image can't tell a benign growth from a cancerous tumor. On the plus side, an ultrasound test can spot the presence of fluid (ascites) in your abdominal cavity which tells your doctor there's a need for further testing. This fluid is seen in a great many gynecological ailments, not all of them as dire as ovarian cancer.

* CA 125 blood test—your body produces a protein called CA 125 as a response to a number of medical conditions. Women with advanced ovarian cancer will often have high blood levels of this protein. However, most women with early treatable ovarian cancer still have normal levels of the protein.

Other Tests

In addition to these tests, your doctor may choose to order a computerized tomography test (CT) or perhaps some magnetic resonance imaging studies (MRI). These tests can give detailed images of your internal organs. If your doctor believes your cancer has spread, he may order chest X-rays, or a bronchoscopy in which fluid and tissue are extracted from the lining of the lungs and checked for cancerous cells.

The only way to prove ovarian cancer is through surgery, most often a laparomtomy. In this surgery, a gynecologic oncologist opens the abdomen to see inside and take fluid samples. The doctor may decide to remove an ovary. The fluid or ovary will then be examined by a pathologist.

Laparoscopy is another surgical option which is less invasive, since it uses smaller incisions. This surgery is done when the doctor is unsure about the nature of a mass. Tissue is removed and evaluated.