Ovarian cancer can affect every woman in the world, including those who are at an age above 60, but also those who are younger than that. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are mild in the early stages, so many women confuse them with a regular period or ovulation pain. That is the reason why ovarian cancer is very often too late to be discovered to save the ovaries and the womb.
Women need to visit their gynecologist on a regular basis: once, twice a year, or more if it is needed. Every little change in the ovaries can be seen during a regular gynecologic examination through an ultrasound that can either be abdominal or transvaginal. Patients should tell their gynecologists if they have other known risks that can cause ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer can be very tricky to recognize on a regular ultrasound screen. Very often, ovarian cancer can be misdiagnosed with cysts or endometriosis. If the gynecologist can see visible changes, they may ask for a number of tests to be performed on their patient, including:
- Physical examination – specialists called internists can perform this test. They will make screenings of the abdomen and the pelvic cavity so they can check if there are tumors or suspicious lumps. The internist may ask for tumor marker tests, so they can see if there is something that later can develop into some type of cancer.
- Blood test – the CA 125 test shows if there is a high concentration of the protein CA 125 in the blood. Having high levels of CA 125 does not necessarily mean that the patient has ovarian cancer, but this test is a good start for the future examinations that will be provided.
- Ultrasound screenings – this test is done in the gynecologist’s clinic. The transvaginal ultrasound provides better and clearer pictures of the womb and ovaries. The gynecologist may send these pictures to a radiologist, so they can make the final diagnosis.
- Various imaging tests – CT and X-ray screenings can also be done when there is a suspicion for ovarian cancer. These methods provide clearer pictures of the organs. Sometimes, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also needs to be done.
After a diagnosis has been made, the patient will be sent to a gynecologic oncologist, to determine the stage and the chances for full recovery after the treatments. There are also a few other tests that can be done, including:
- Biopsy – a sample of the suspicious tissue is removed and is examined under a microscope. Sometimes, an abdominal fluid can be used as a sample for the tests.
- Laparoscopy – the doctor sees the ovaries and other pelvic organs through a video monitor. This is one of the most effective ways to diagnose ovarian cancer.
- Colonoscopy – during this intervention, the patient is under sedation. The doctors can see if there are any abnormal changes in the colon on a video monitor.
The doctors and researchers who are working on the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer hope that soon there will be more effective ways to diagnose ovarian cancer in the early stages. The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the chances of surviving and full recovery are higher.
The biggest problem with ovarian cancer is that, in the most cases, this disease is discovered in the later stages (stage 3 and stage 4) when a total hysterectomy should be done. In worst cases, when cancer has spread to other organs, the chances of surviving are very low. If that happens, the doctors and specialists are doing everything they can to ease the symptoms in the last moments of the patient’s life.