Screening for Ovarian Cancer

What is Screening for Ovarian Cancer?

Screening for ovarian cancer encompasses a set of medical tests performed on females where there is the suspicion or higher-than-normal risk of cancer. Women with a risk near the general population of ovarian cancer are recommended to have an annual pelvic examination instead of screening.

If the screening test results are negative, you can continue to live a normal life. If the results reveal ovarian cancer, your doctor will start treatment to prevent the disease from advancing and spreading to other parts of your body. Timely diagnosis helps save lives.

How to Prepare for Ovarian Cancer Screening?

You will be given specific instructions to follow before scheduling your ovarian cancer screening tests. These may include:

  • Taking your medications as per your doctor’s instructions
  • You may be asked to empty your bladder and rectum before the screening test

These instructions are given to ensure accurate test results. 

What Happens During the Physical Exam Prior to Ovarian Cancer Screening?

Before screening for ovarian cancer, your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam. During this process, your doctor notes the following:

  • Age, weight, height, and body mass index (BMI)
  • Medical conditions, if any, and age of onset
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Current medications, if any
  • Medical history
  • Your family’s medical history
  • Whether you are single or married
  • Diet and smoking habits  
  • Exercise habits and physical activity status

After these details have been obtained, your doctor will proceed with ovarian cancer screening.

What are the Different Tests Used to Screen for Ovarian Cancer?

The common screening tests for ovarian cancer include:

Bimanual Pelvic Examination (BPE)

BPE is done to check the size and location of a woman's internal pelvic organs. In this test, your health care provider wears gloves and applies lubrication on their hands and fingers. Two fingers are inserted into the vagina and pressure is applied with the other hand on the lower part of your belly to locate the organs and detect any lumps or pain.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

You may be encouraged to empty your bladder before this procedure. For a transvaginal ultrasound, you will lie on your back with your legs placed apart and the knees bent at a slight angle. A lubricant may be applied into your vagina and/or on the probe.  Then the small probe is placed into your vagina to examine the health of your fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus. Your doctor uses the results to evaluate the thickness of the uterine lining, presence of cysts, tumors, and other abnormal growths.

Blood Test for Serum Marker CA-125

Cancer antigen 125, also called CA-125, is a protein produced by most of the epithelial ovarian cancer cells. It is found in the blood serum samples of women with ovarian cancer. Prior to this blood test, you will be given instructions on any fasting requirements. A negative result means you do not have ovarian cancer. If the results are positive, you may be asked to take additional tests to confirm ovarian cancer, as the following conditions can give false positive results:

  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids 
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease

Combined CA 125 and Transvaginal Ultrasound

To ensure that you do have the chemical identifiers for ovarian cancer, your healthcare provider will perform both a CA 125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound testing to be sure.

What are the Risks and Complications of Ovarian Cancer Screening?

Some women may find transvaginal ultrasound uncomfortable. The other problem with these screening tests is that they sometimes give a false positive result. This can lead to unnecessary surgical procedures, mental trauma, anxiety, and loss of time and money for the patient and their family members. Hence, care must be taken to ensure the results are as accurate as possible with minimal chance of error.

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