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Ovarian Cancer
Diagnosis

To help find the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical exam and recommend diagnostic tests. The exams and tests may include some of the following:

  • Pelvic Exam — A pelvic exam consists of feeling the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum to find any abnormality in their shape or size. A Pap test, an effective test for cancer of the cervix, is often done along with the pelvic exam, but it is not a reliable way to find or diagnose ovarian cancer.
  • Ultrasound — Ultrasound refers to the use of high-frequency sound waves that are aimed at the ovaries. The pattern of the echoes they produce creates a picture called a sonogram. Healthy tissues, fluid-filled cysts and tumors look different on this picture.
  • CA-125 assay — This is a blood test used to measure the level of CA-125, a tumor marker that is often found in higher-than-normal amounts in the blood of women with ovarian cancer.
  • Lower GI series — Also called a barium enema, this is a series of X-rays of the colon and rectum. The pictures are taken after the patient is given an enema with a white, chalky solution containing barium, which outlines the colon and rectum on the X-ray, making tumors or other abnormal areas easier to see.
  • Computed tomography (CT) Scan — A CT scan is a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body created by a computer linked to a X-ray machine.
  • Biopsy — Biopsy is the removal of tissue for examination under a microscope. A pathologist studies the tissue to make a diagnosis. To obtain the tissue, the surgeon performs a laparotomy, an operation to open the abdomen. If cancer is suspected, the surgeon performs an oophorectomy, where the entire ovary is removed. This is important because if cancer is present, removing just a sample of tissue by cutting through the outer layer of the ovary could allow cancer cells to escape and cause the disease to spread.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.