Ovarian Cancer Screening

For most women, there is no effective way to screen for cancer in the ovaries, peritoneum (a layer of tissue that lines the abdomen), or fallopian tubes. Current tests are not reliable or accurate enough, especially for early-stage disease — and our experts have concluded that the risks generally outweigh potential benefits. This is one reason why it’s important for all women to be aware of the risk factors for this illness, and to stay sensitive to changes that might be symptoms of it.

Gynecologic surgeon Dennis Chi explains why it’s been challenging to find reliable screening methods to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage, when it’s easier to cure.

Screening for Women at Near-Average Risk

MSK does not recommend screening for women whose risk is near average, which means that your level of risk is less than three times greater than the general public. We do recommend an annual gynecologic exam as a preventative step.

Screening for Women at Increased Risk

For women at increased risk, we generally recommend screening with the following approaches at regular intervals:

  • Transvaginal ultrasound. Of the various imaging methods that have been evaluated for use in ovarian cancer screening, transvaginal ultrasound has consistently proven to be the most effective technique. With this approach, an ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina to allow a radiologist or technician to view the organs in the pelvic region.
  • Blood test for the serum marker CA-125. Serum markers are substances in the blood that can be detected through blood tests. CA-125 is a protein produced by more than 90 percent of advanced epithelial ovarian cancers, the most common form of the disease. The CA-125 protein has become the most evaluated serum marker for ovarian cancer screening.
  • Pelvic exam

How to Know if You’re at Increased Risk for Ovarian Cancer

At MSK, we offer hereditary cancer risk assessment, genetic counseling, and genetic testing by specially trained genetic counselors and physicians. Contact us if you’re concerned about your personal or family history of cancer.  Our team of experts can help you make medical decisions about how to manage your risk.

Other Screening Approaches

MSK experts in the laboratory and clinic are developing methods that might lead to more useful screening approaches for women at average as well as increased risk for ovarian, peritoneal, or fallopian tube cancer.

Women can monitor their own bodies for the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer.

For example, researchers are examining if a blood test marker in addition to the CA-125 test, alone or in combination, might be helpful in detecting cancer. And a test based on proteomics, a method involves the evaluation of patterns of dozens to hundreds of low molecular weight proteins simultaneously, has also been recently proposed.

Several studies have evaluated the combined use of transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125. These studies have suggested that the combination of these tests in the general population is not sensitive enough to detect early stage ovarian cancer.  These tests also increase the rate of false positive results, which can lead to additional testing, anxiety and unnecessary surgery.