The American Cancer Society estimates that over 21,500 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in one year, and over 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer. You can learn more about ovarian cancer in the ovarian cancer overview.
Diagnosing ovarian cancer
In order to find out if cancer of the ovaries is present, the doctor may order one or more tests.
• Pelvic exam – This is typically done as part of an annual exam. The doctor presses on the abdomen to feel for the size and shape of organs and to check for tumors and fluid build-up. The ovaries are difficult to reach, so this test may not be conclusive. A pap test is part of a normal pelvic exam. The pap test is useful in diagnosing cervical cancer, but cannot detect ovarian cancer.
• Blood tests – The lab may test for CA-125, which is a substance found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. A high level of CA-125 could mean ovarian cancer is present.
• Imaging – Tests including an ultrasound, CT, and MRI can help produce images of structures inside the body. This will allow the doctor to look for signs of a tumor.
• Biopsy – A small sample of tissue is taken and examined under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. This can be done using a large needle, or through laparoscopic surgery which uses tiny incisions in the abdomen to insert a camera and other instruments to collect the sample.
Cancer cells that are examined as part of a biopsy may be given a grade of one through three. Grade one cancer cells look almost normal and are least likely to spread. Grade three cells look the least like normal cells and are most likely to grow and spread.
Staging ovarian cancer
Part of the process of determining the best cancer treatment is staging the cancer. The doctor will evaluate the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.