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.
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
- 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.