Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

Richard Barakat

To check for ovarian cancer, your doctor will likely perform a pelvic exam to feel for lumps or changes in and around the ovaries, and order additional tests if you’ve been experiencing persistent abdominal bloating, discomfort or other symptoms, or if you have risk factors for this cancer.

Women found to have a suspicious mass or other indication of ovarian cancer should see an ovarian cancer specialist, ideally a gynecologic oncologist.

The following tests and procedures can help determine if you have ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer (the peritoneum is a layer of tissue that lines your abdomen). They can also help in determining the stage of the cancer, and build a treatment plan specifically for you. 

Imaging Tests

Following a pelvic exam, we may recommend you undergo imaging tests such as transvaginal ultrasound, which is considered more accurate than a traditional ultrasound test because it allows technicians to place a special kind of wand called a transducer into the vagina and physically close to the ovaries. Sound waves emitted from the device bounce off organs within the pelvis to help identify growths and possible tumors.

Another commonly used imaging test to look for abnormalities is a CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

CA- 125 Blood Test

A simple blood test to measure the level of the CA-125 protein can be helpful in making a diagnosis.  This tumor marker can in some cases indicate the presence of ovarian cancer, since most epithelial ovarian cancer cells release this protein. However, because other types of tissue including non-cancerous tissues can also raise the level of this protein, the test isn’t usually recommended for women who aren’t experiencing symptoms,  or who are at average risk for this cancer.

Surgery

For many women, surgical procedures such as minimally invasive laparoscopy and robotic surgery are used to remove a sample of tissue for pathologists to determine if cancer is present. At MSK, our surgeons often proceed with removing abnormal tissue and staging cancer if we find it.