Taking Charge: Screening for Ovarian Cancer

Detecting cancer in the ovaries is more difficult than finding cancer in the breast, because these organs are not visible or easy to examine. No screening tests are currently available that can be widely used to find this cancer at an early stage. Women usually do not develop noticeable symptoms from ovarian cancer until the disease is quite advanced.

It is for this reason that ovarian cancer claims so many lives. If the disease is discovered when it is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent, but only 25 percent of all ovarian cancers are found at this early stage. Scientists are working to develop a screening test that can be used to detect ovarian cancer, just as mammography is used to detect breast cancer and Pap smears are used to find cervical cancer.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to improve the odds that ovarian cancer is found as soon as possible:

  • Make sure you have a regular pelvic examination. If your doctor finds an enlarged ovary, he or she may do additional studies, such as an ultrasound.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if any of these symptoms persist. The symptoms described below sometimes occur with ovarian cancer, but are also often caused by many other conditions. If they persist, you should contact your doctor.
    • Prolonged swelling of the abdomen
    • Digestive problems including gas, loss of appetite, bloating, long-term stomach pain or indigestion
    • Unusual vaginal bleeding
    • Pelvic pressure (feeling as though you have to urinate or defecate all the time)
    • Pelvic pain
    • Leg pain

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.