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Ovarian Cancer

Q: How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Dr. Donnica:
The best way to identify ovarian cancer is through an abnormality felt on a routine pelvic exam. This means the best preventive measure women can take is to have their annual gynecologic exam. An ultrasound exam can confirm this.  If cancer is suspected, a blood test can be ordered to measure CA-125, a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells that is elevated in half of women with early ovarian cancer and 80% of women with advanced cancer. This is NOT a reliable screening or diagnostic test for ovarian cancer, however.  The only way to make the definite diagnosis is surgically.  Depending upon the doctor's level of suspicion, she may recommend a laparoscopy, in which a lighted tube is inserted through a small "belly button" incision, or open surgery down the middle of the abdomen, called a laparotomy. 

During surgery, the ovaries and all abdominal organs (diaphragm, bowel, and peritoneum) will be carefully examined for any evidence of cancer.  Lymph nodes, fluid samples and tissue biopsies will be taken and tested. 

Ovarian cancer is diagnosed as:

  • Stage I, if it is limited to the ovary itself.
  • Stage II, if other pelvic organs are affected.
  • Stage III, if the cancer has spread to other abdominal organs, except the liver.
  • Stage IV, if the cancer has spread to the liver or other organs outside the abdomen (e.g. lungs).

The earlier the stage of ovarian cancer at the time of diagnosis, the better the prognosis will be.

Created: 11/16/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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