What are screening tests for ovarian cancer?

Unfortunately, there are no screening tests for ovarian cancer (as there are for other cancers, such as breast cancer or colon cancer). Imaging tests and other diagnostic tests can show whether a mass is present, but cannot tell whether or not the mass is cancerous. These imaging tests include:
  • Abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to distinguish fluid-filled cysts from solid ones. It is often used to rule out or identify a possible cancer.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This test produces x-ray images of cross-sections of body tissues. It is used to show the size of the tumor or mass, whether lymph nodes are involved and whether the tumor has spread to other organs. It is also used to guide a biopsy needle into a tumor to obtain a tissue sample.
Other diagnostic tests that may be used include:
  • Chest x-ray. A chest x-ray can determine whether ovarian cancer has spread to the lungs.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan). During a PET scan, a radioactive glucose (sugar) is given to look for cancer. Cancers use glucose at a higher rate than normal tissues, so radioactivity will concentrate in the cancer and show up on a scan. In some cases, PET scans are helpful in finding ovarian cancer that has spread, especially when combined with a CT scan.
  • Laparoscopy. During a laparoscopy, a doctor uses a thin, lighted tube to look at the ovaries and other pelvic organs and tissues. The tube is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen, and it sends images to a video monitor. Laparoscopy can help plan surgery or other treatments that help determine how far ovarian cancer has spread.
  • Biopsy. The only way to definitely determine whether or not a tumor is cancerous is to obtain a sample of the tumor and examine it under a microscope during a procedure called a biopsy. For ovarian cancer, biopsies are most frequently done by removing the tumor at surgery.
  • Blood tests. These may include a blood test that checks for CA-125, a protein found in the blood of many women with ovarian cancer.
  • Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series (barium dye enema). During a barium dye enema, barium sulfate, a chalky substance, is placed into the colon and rectum. The barium outlines the colon and rectum so they are more visible on x-rays. This test enables your health professional to see the bowel on x-ray to detect abnormalities.
Unfortunately there are no good tests to screen for ovarian cancer, especially in a patient with no symptoms. Tests including ultrasound, computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can diagnose an ovarian mass, but none of these tests is recommended as routine screening for a woman considered at normal risk.

Certain women at higher risk, such as those with a known genetic mutation such as BRCAA or close family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, may benefit from blood tests such as CA-125 or regular ultrasound screenings. Even these recommendations are controversial however, as they have not been shown to lower the death rate from ovarian cancer. Any woman with either a family history or other reason to be concerned should discuss her options with her doctor.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Currently available screening tests for ovarian cancer include:

- Transvaginal Ultrasound: This test allows the doctor to see a better picture of your ovaries. It shows if your ovaries are larger than they should be. If you are premenopausal, your ovaries should each be the size of a walnut; after menopause, they typically shrink down to the size of an almond.
- Recto-vaginal exam: This allows the physician to access and feel the ovaries more easily because the ovaries are more posteriorly located.
- Blood test for CA-125: This test measures a protein that ovarian cancer cells secrete into the bloodstream; elevated levels may indicate an ovarian cancer.
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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.