Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer

To plan the best treatment, your gynecologic oncologist needs to understand the nature of your tumor and the extent or stage of your cancer. The stage of your cancer indicates if the tumor is in other nearby tissues, or if it spread to other parts of the body, and what parts of the body.

Tests for Ovarian Cancer

While there is no simple way to screen for ovarian cancer in women who do not have any signs or symptoms, there are diagnostic tests to detect ovarian cancer once you begin experiencing symptoms, or if you are at risk for ovarian cancer.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor may use tests to find the cause of your symptoms and to determine if you have ovarian cancer. Through surgery, the ultimate diagnosis is made in the pathology lab. A diagnosis can be made with a scan performed by a radiologist as well.

During the diagnostic process, you may undergo the following tests:

  • Biopsy—surgically removes tissue that a pathologist views under a microscope to check for signs of cancer in some
  • CA 125 blood test—measures the level of CA 125, a protein that often indicates the presence of ovarian cancer in the blood
  • CT scan (CAT scan) —provides computer-generated images of inside the body using computerized tomography and is linked to an X-ray machine for analysis
  • Pelvic exam—feels the size, shape, and position of your uterus and ovaries
  • Ultrasound—uses high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) to create echoes that form a picture of your pelvic area tissues (sonogram) to determine the presence of ovarian cancer. An effective type of ultrasound is a transvaginal ultrasound.

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

To create your treatment plan, your doctor will need to know more about the nature of your ovarian cancer (staging) by surgery or by ordering tests to diagnose and stage your cancer. Staging refers to the extent that your cancer has spread. Stages of ovarian cancer range from one to four (I to IV) as follows:

  • Stage I: Cancer cells are in one or both ovaries, on the surface or in fluid collected from the abdomen.
  • Stage II: Cancer cells have spread from one or both ovaries to other tissues in the pelvis, such as the fallopian tubes and the uterus, or in fluid collected from the abdomen.
  • Stage III: Cancer cells have spread to tissues outside the pelvis or to lymph nodes and may be on the outside of the liver.
  • Stage IV: Cancer have cells spread to tissues outside the abdomen and pelvis and may be inside the liver, in the lungs, or in other organs.

When detected in its early stages, ovarian cancer treatment has the best chance for a good outcome.