Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
If you have a symptom that suggests ovarian cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history.
You may have one or more of the following tests to diagnose ovarian cancer.
Your doctor can explain more about each test:
- Physical exam: Your doctor checks general signs of health. Your doctor may press on your abdomen to check for tumors or an abnormal buildup of fluid (ascites). A sample of fluid can be taken to look for ovarian cancer cells.
- Pelvic exam: 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 is not used to collect ovarian cells. The Pap test detects cervical cancer. The Pap test is not used to diagnose ovarian cancer.
- Blood tests: Your doctor may order blood tests. The lab may check the level of several substances, including CA-125. CA-125 is a substance 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. The Food and Drug Administration approves this test for monitoring a woman’s response to ovarian cancer treatment and for detecting its return after treatment.
- Ultrasound: The ultrasound device uses sound waves that people cannot hear. The device aims sound waves at organs inside the pelvis. The waves bounce off the organs. A computer creates a picture from the echoes. The picture may show an ovarian tumor. For a better view of the ovaries, the device may be inserted into the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).
- Biopsy: A biopsy is the removal of tissue or fluid to look for cancer cells. 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. To learn more about surgery, see the “Ovarian Cancer Treatment” section.
Although most women have a laparotomy for diagnosis, some women have a procedure known as laparoscopy. The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube (a laparoscope) through a small incision in the abdomen. Laparoscopy may be used to remove a small, benign cyst or early ovarian cancer. It may also be used to learn whether cancer has spread.
A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue or fluid. If ovarian cancer cells are found, the pathologist describes the grade of the cells. Grades 1, 2, and 3 describe how abnormal the cancer cells look. Grade 1 cancer cells are not as likely to grow and spread as Grade 3 cells. Learn more about how gynecologic oncologists determine the extent of ovarian cancer, also known as staging ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Care at Virginia Oncology Associates
If you or a loved one has been newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the gynecologic oncologists at our cancer centers can help guide you through the next steps. We work with your doctor to understand your unique diagnosis and recommend treatment based on your situation. Our cancer centers are located in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Chesapeake, Virginia.
Related Reading: The 9 Signs of Ovarian Cancer Every Woman Needs to Know