How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

Detecting ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is hard to detect in the early stages, when it is most treatable. It’s important to see  your doctor regularly. To detect and diagnose ovarian cancer, our doctors perform thorough exams. They also ask questions about your past health and symptoms.

The three main types of primary ovarian cancer are:

  • Epithelial ovarian carcinoma
    The most common type of ovarian cancer. These tumors begin in the cells that cover the ovary's outer surface or in the fallopian tube.

  • Germ cell carcinoma
    These tumors start in the cells that produce the eggs.

  • Stromal carcinoma
    The least common ovarian cancer. These tumors grow in the connective tissue cells that hold the ovary together and make female hormones.

Presently, the two tests used most often to diagnose for the disease are the transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test.

Ovarian Ultrasound ImageTransvaginal ultrasound

TVUS uses sound waves to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries by placing an ultrasound wand into the vagina. Your abdomen is full of many things, and the ovaries are very small. This is why the wand is used; it makes detecting the ovaries easier. The test can locate a mass in the ovary, but it can’t determine if the mass is cancerous or benign. Your doctor may use this test to detect a lump on your ovary. 

Cancer antigen 125 blood test (CA-125 blood test)

CA-125 is a protein in the blood. Many women with ovarian cancer have elevated levels of CA-125. The cancer antigen 125 test can help indicate ovarian cancer, but it is not definite. 

    • Having too much of this antigen can also be caused by the menstrual cycle, endometriosis and ovarian fibroids, as well as other types of cancer. 

    • This test can be useful as a tumor marker to help guide treatment in women known to have ovarian cancer, because a high level often goes down if treatment is working.

These and other follow-up tests help your health care team: 

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