Ovarian cancer is often difficult to detect because its symptoms, if any, mimic a host of other conditions. There are several ovarian cancer tests used by physicians to detect the disease. These tests typically include a pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound, and C125 blood test. If cancer is suspected, surgery might be recommended to better observe the area and obtain tissue samples.
Primary among ovarian cancer tests is the pelvic exam. A doctor examines a woman’s entire vaginal area, including the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Aside from an examination of the exposed areas of the genitals, the doctor insert two fingers into the vaginal opening while applying pressure on the abdomen. In this way, the doctor can feel the uterus and ovaries, noting any irregularities. A speculum is also used to spread the vaginal opening so that a visual inspection of the cervix can be made.
A transvaginal ultrasound is another common type of ovarian cancer test. High-frequency sound waves are used to generate a picture of the ovaries and uterus. During this procedure, while the patient is reclined on her back, a transducer wand is inserted into the vagina and gently moved around to obtain various views of the uterus and ovaries. Signs of ovarian cancer can sometimes be visualized using this procedure.
The CA125 blood test can also be used to detect ovarian cancer. CA125 is a type of protein that is found in high levels in some women who have ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, because elevated levels of CA125 can stem from other conditions as well, this particular blood test can often produce false positive results. Furthermore, ovarian cancer doesn’t always cause elevated CA125 levels and therefore will not always be detected by a CA125 blood test alone. Consequently, the CA125 blood test is often used in conjunction with other ovarian cancer tests.
If any of these ovarian cancer tests raise a suspicion of cancer, surgery might be recommended to obtain tissue samples and better observe the area. Generally, an incision is made in the abdomen in order to inspect the uterus and ovaries. Tissue and fluid samples might be taken, and if cancer is detected, removal of the ovaries might be done at that time. Alternatively, instead of one large incision, several small incisions can be made and tiny cameras inserted to visualize the area less invasively.
Research continues in an effort to develop more precise ovarian cancer tests. For instance, advancements have been made in gene mutation testing and other types of blood testing that could lead to greater diagnostic accuracy. Additionally, advances in whole genome testing have shown promise in detecting those at risk for developing ovarian cancer.