What Is Ovarian Cancer Screening?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2018
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Ovarian cancer is one of the most lethal cancers of women's reproductive systems. A factor in the high mortality rate associated with the cancer is the lack of accurate early warning tests. There are no tests, as of 2011, that can recognize early signs of the cancer in the general population. Ovarian cancer screening techniques include blood testing, ultrasound, and pelvic examination.

The function of ovaries is to release eggs into the uterus for reproductive purposes and also to make certain hormones. When an ovarian cell becomes mutated, ovarian cancer can result. The disease is more common in women over 50 years old and women who are undergoing fertility treatment. Genetics also play a role as does obesity.

In the early stages, the cancer may not produce any symptoms. The early symptoms may be also be dismissed as unimportant, as they can be just a bloated feeling or abdominal pain. A swollen abdomen, pain during sexual intercourse, and abnormal bleeding are also signs. Many ovarian cancer cases are only diagnosed when in the advanced stages, when symptoms of illness become more obvious. The survival rate is higher when the cancer is caught in the early stages rather than the advanced stages.


No screening procedure, as of 2011, is in use that can recognize early stages of the disease in the general population. Scientists are currently researching the efficacy of various screening methods to see if one particular test will pick up enough cases to be practical. The techniques of ovarian cancer screening that are being assessed are a blood test and an ultrasound test.

Ultrasound is a medical imaging technique that allows a doctor to see if the ovaries appear normal. The test requires the patient to have an ultrasound probe inserted vaginally. A disadvantage of this imaging method is that ovarian cysts can look like tumors and vice versa.

A significant percentage of women who have the disease have raised levels of a substance called CA125 in their blood. Not all ovarian cancer patients have high blood CA125, and high levels can also be present in the absence of cancer. A blood test to measure CA125 may therefore cause false positives and false negatives.

Despite the drawbacks to these two ovarian cancer screening techniques, they are being researched to see if they can be useful in identifying women with early stage cancer. They are also being studied in combination to see if that gives a more accurate result. Although there is no screening procedure available to the general public, women at high risk of the disease can still opt to undergo one, or more, of these tests. The techniques are not efficient enough to diagnose all ovarian cancers, but they can identify some. Genetics testing may also be offered to women with a family history of the disease.

Another method of ovarian cancer screening is the pelvic examination, where the doctor feels the ovaries and the surrounding tissue for signs of disease. He or she also visually inspects the tissues. This test is invasive and can only detect the cancer in the late stages.



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