Several diagnostic approaches can be followed when ovarian cancer is suspected. The CA125 blood test, which measures a blood protein that is usually elevated in a woman who has ovarian cancer, should not be used as a screening or diagnostic tool. Rather, it is a tool for monitoring disease recurrence in patients. Women also should know that Pap smears detect cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.
A transvaginal ultrasound, computed tomography scan or a magnetic resonance imaging will allow the doctor to visualize the ovaries to see if a tumor is present. The final step is a biopsy, which removes a sample of ovarian tissue by laparoscopy and examines it under the microscope. Biopsy is the only way to diagnose ovarian cancer with certainty, but cancer cells may be detected in fluid obtained from the abdomen in women with ascites.
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to construct an image of deep body tissues that is displayed on a video screen and photographed for analysis.
Computed tomography uses a rotating X-ray beam directed at the body from various angles; a computer processes information from the scan to produce a detailed image of a selected area of the body. Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and radio frequency waves rather than X-rays to create images of specific areas of the body. -Used with permission from HopkinsHealth, copyright Johns Hopkins.