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Currently there is no good screening test for ovarian cancer. However, research is ongoing to develop a reliable method for early detection among asymptomatic women. In the meantime, an awareness of symptoms is important.

Testing of symptomatic women includes:

  • CA-125 (Cancer antigen 125) measures a protein in the blood that is elevated in about 80% of ovarian cancers derived from the surface cells. It may be used in conjunction with pelvic examination and a transvaginal and/or pelvic ultrasound to help diagnose ovarian cancer. However, it is not specific enough to be used as a general screening tool: elevations in CA-125 levels are seen in other cancers, in hepatitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis as well as in early pregnancy and menstruation. It is mainly used as a tumour marker to monitor ovarian cancer treatment and to help detect early recurrence of cancer. However, there is debate about whether it picks up recurrence early enough.
  • AFP (Alpha fetoprotein) and hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) levels are elevated in some ovarian cancers derived from the germ cells, but they are also elevated during pregnancy. If AFP or hCG are elevated in a case of ovarian cancer, the tests can be used to monitor treatment and to detect recurrence of cancer.
  • BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 are tests for two genetic mutations that have been associated with an increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer. These tests are usually done to screen and/or help diagnose a patient who has a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Other non-laboratory tests that are used to evaluate abnormalities include:

  • Ultrasound (pelvic and/or transvaginal) uses sound waves to create a picture of the uterus and ovaries. It can help determine whether an ovarian growth is likely to be a cancer or a fluid-filled cyst.
  • CT scan (computerised tomography)
  • MRI scan of the abdomen

Last Review Date: July 1, 2018