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How is a diagnosis of ovarian cancer confirmed?

When diagnosing ovarian cancer, the following imaging tools are used to confirm that a pelvic mass is present and to detect if it has spread beyond the ovaries:
  • Ultrasound - This imaging technology uses sound waves to create an image of your internal organs, including the ovaries. The sound that tumors produce is different than healthy tissues, which helps doctors identify an ovarian tumor. A transvaginal Doppler ultrasound is used to measure increased blood flow to the ovaries, another indicator of cancerous tissue.
  • CT (computerized tomography) scan – This imaging tool is one of the best modalities available to help make an accurate ovarian cancer diagnosis. A CT scan reveals a detailed, 3D image of the ovaries and abdomen. After a physical exam and ultrasound have been performed, a CT scan is used to locate a tumor before surgery. A CT scan also is used to determine tumor size, what other organs might be affected and whether lymph nodes are enlarged. Understanding the extent of the disease helps doctors formulate the right treatment plan before going into surgery.
  • PET/CT (positron emission tomography/computerized tomography) – This technology shows what is happening in the body at a cellular level, before any tumors may be present. PET/CT is used to investigate rising CA-125 levels or a suspicious spot on a CT scan, to determine whether there is cancerous activity in the ovaries or elsewhere in the body.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – This imaging technique uses radiofrequency waves to create a detailed, cross-sectional image of the ovaries and surrounding tissues. An MRI has much greater soft tissue contrast than a CT scan, making it especially useful in detecting tumors and metastases in other parts of the body.
A diagnosis of ovarian cancer is confirmed with imaging tests and other types of tests. If you or your doctor suspects you may have ovarian cancer, or you have a very high risk of developing it, you will undergo certain diagnostic tests. These tests can show whether a growth or mass is present, but cannot tell whether or not the mass is cancerous.

If your healthcare professional suspects ovarian cancer, you will likely undergo an exploratory laparotomy. During a laparotomy, the surgeon makes an incision in your stomach and removes the growth. The surgeon then performs a biopsy to see if the growth is cancerous. If the tissue is indeed cancerous, the surgeon will remove as much of the tumor and affected tissue and organs as possible.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.