Ovarian Cancer: Screening & Surveillance

Screening for ovarian cancer is generally based upon the level of hereditary risk that you carry for developing the disease. To learn more about your risk, visit Risk Factors and Prevention.

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, before it has spread (called stage 1A disease), the long-term survival rate exceeds 90 to 95 percent. The majority of women with stage 1A disease are cured with surgery alone. The problem is that no effective methods are currently available to screen for epithelial ovarian cancer for women at average or near average risk. For this reason, identifying an accurate method to detect early-stage ovarian cancer could improve cure rates significantly, saving thousands of women's lives each year. Investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering, working with other investigators from around the world, are actively study methods and approaches that may lead to a useful method of ovarian cancer screening for women at average and near average risk.

Screening Options

For women at increased risk due to family history or genetic mutations, screening with transvaginal ultrasound or a blood test to detect CA-125 is sometimes recommended.

Transvaginal ultrasound

This is a test in which a special wand is inserted into the vagina. The wand provides pictures that can show if there are tumors in and around the ovaries. It is most often used to evaluate pelvic symptoms. For some women at very increased risk of ovarian cancer, it may be useful as part of an ovarian cancer risk-reduction program. Because this test frequently produces abnormal results even when there is no cancer or other medical concern, it is not recommended as a routine ovarian cancer screening tool for women at average or near average risk who have no other symptoms.

CA-125 Blood Test

This test measures the level of a protein released by some ovarian cancer cells into the bloodstream. For women at very increased risk of ovarian cancer, regular measurement of CA-125 is sometimes used to help screen for ovarian cancer. Because the CA-125 protein is also frequently released by other normal cells, CA-125 testing is not recommended for ovarian cancer screening for women at average or near average risk who do not have symptoms.

Whether or not you should have regular transvaginal ultrasounds or CA-125 blood tests depend upon your personal and family history, your age, and your current plans for childbearing. Physicians in the Ovarian Cancer Screening and Prevention Program can help you consider the pros and cons of using one or more of these methods of screening.