Ovarian cancer is also referred to as the silent killer because detecting this cancer is usually difficult in the early stages. Ovarian cancer detection often begins with recognizing the symptoms of the disease, along with a thorough physical examination. A doctor may also conduct blood tests and imaging tests. A biopsy, however, is usually needed to make an accurate diagnosis.
Early symptoms of ovarian cancer are often very mild and can go undetected. Some of these may include abdominal pain or discomfort, frequent bloating, and gastrointestinal problems. Diarrhea, constipation, and gas may all be early signs of ovarian cancer.
As the disease progresses, a woman may notice appetite and weight loss. Abnormal menstrual cycles can occur as well, along with frequent urination. Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse is another symptom of ovarian cancer.
A woman's gynecologist will usually perform a thorough physical examination during ovarian cancer detection. This will include a complete pelvic examination. During the pelvic examination, the doctor will often press on a woman's abdomen. This may be done while he has one or two fingers inserted in her vagina. By doing this, he can feel any abnormal masses or lumps in the area of the ovaries.
If a woman's doctor suspects a mass on or around the ovaries, other tests will often be necessary. Imaging tests are typically used in ovarian cancer detection as well. An ultrasound test, which uses sound waves, is a common test used during ovarian cancer detection. A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test may also be used. Though these tests can usually locate an abnormal growth or tumor, they are unable to determine whether these are cancerous.
Samples of blood are also usually taken during ovarian cancer detection. Laboratory technicians will usually look for the presence of a protein known as CA-125. While small amounts of this protein are typically found in healthy blood, elevated levels often indicate ovarian cancer.
A medical procedure known as a laparoscopy can also be performed during ovarian cancer detection. During this procedure, a tiny incision is made in a woman's lower abdomen. A fiber optic tube, with a light and camera, is then inserted into this incision. Using these tools, a doctor can visually inspect any abnormal growths on a woman's ovaries.
During a laparoscopy, a small sample of tissue may be taken from the ovaries. A sample of ovarian tissue can also be taken during another abdominal surgery or via a needle through the abdominal wall. This sample is then studied with a microscope to finally confirm an ovarian cancer diagnosis.