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Ovarian Cancer Detection Strategies

All women should know the early signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and shouldn't hesitate to bring up any concerns about them to their healthcare providers. For a long time, doctors believed that there weren't any early symptoms, but studies have shown that most women with ovarian cancer had certain specific (although vague) symptoms. Watching for these signs is important for early ovarian cancer detection.
In addition, all women should receive a yearly pelvic exam. This is the typical "hands-on" exam you get at the gynecologist's or family doctor's office. Basically, the doctor feels your uterus and ovaries to check for anything unusual. For women with a normal ovarian cancer risk, this is all the monitoring or screening that is advised for detection.
For women at a higher risk for ovarian cancer, a yearly "CA-125" blood test and transvaginal ultrasound can help detect cancers in the earlier, more treatable stages. However, while logically this kind of screening to detect early cases should decrease the risk of death from ovarian cancer, studies haven't yet shown that to be the case. In fact, some studies have shown that this type of screening has no effect on ovarian cancer death rates.
Some data suggests that comparing a woman's CA-125 levels from year to year and watching for any unusual rises, rather than just comparing her levels to predetermined lab values, might be especially helpful for catching early cancers without producing too many false positives. CA-125 testing tends to produce false positives frequently, unfortunately, which is one of the reasons it's not routinely done for normal-risk women. A false positive means that a woman's CA-125 test indicates that she has ovarian cancer when she really does not.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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