Perhaps the most disparaging fact in the fight against ovarian cancer is that there is no definitively accurate and reliable screening test for this disease. If you have symptoms or feel you are at a high risk, please speak with a doctor who can test you for the disease using one or all of the following methods:
- Physical Exam, including a recto-vaginal exam that allows the ovaries to be felt by the doctor. This should be a part of every woman's annual check up with her gynecologist.
- Trans-vaginal ultrasound providing the best view of the ovaries.
- CA-125 blood test measuring the level of protein found in ovarian cancer cells. Caution must be taken when interpreting the results of this test because it may not detect protein in the early stages of the disease and there are many other conditions that can produce elevated levels of the CA-125 protein.
It is important to note that these tests when administered independently of each other are less effective in screening for the disease than when they are used in combination. Ongoing research is aimed at finding a test that will effectively screen for ovarian cancer in its early stages, before it has spread. One of the major goals of the NormaLeah Foundation is to advocate for such a test to become a routine part of every woman's annual exam, just like a Pap Test and Mammogram.
If your doctor suspects you may have ovarian cancer, the only way to positively determine if you have the disease is with surgery.
Doctors can confirm the existence of the disease through a biopsy. Using an aspiration procedure or a laparoscopy, tissues and/or fluid are removed from the reproductive glands and/or abdomen and examined for the presence of ovarian cancer cells. The only way to confirm the presence of ovarian cancer is through a biopsy.
If a biopsy confirms the presence of ovarian cancer, the next step is to undergo surgery. Known as a laparotomy, this surgery removes the cancerous tissues and fluids from the pelvis and abdomen and is necessary to treat all stages of ovarian cancer. It is the only way to determine how far the cancer has spread.
Your best chance for survival is to be treated by a gynecologic oncologist who has additional medical training and is a specialist in the field of female reproductive cancers. Gynecologic oncologists are 5 times more likely to completely remove ovarian tumors during surgery.
"Gynecological oncologists are 5 times more likely to completely remove ovarian tumors during surgery."
Four stages mark the progression of ovarian cancer. Within each stage the cancer cells are "graded" according to their degree of maturity (A is least mature and C is most malignant). The cancer's stage at diagnosis is an important indicator of the duration, course and outcome of the disease – the earlier the cancer is found and treated, the better the prognosis. Most ovarian cancer diagnoses will specify both the stage and the grade.
Stage I The cancer is contained within one or both of the ovaries; cancer cells may be found in the abdomen.
Stage IIThe cancer has spread beyond the ovaries into other areas in the pelvic region: fallopian tubes, uterus, bladder, colon, rectum.
Stage IIIThe cancer has affected areas outside the pelvis and can be found in the lining of the abdomen and/or the lymph nodes.
Stage IVThe cancer has moved to other organs, such as the lung, liver and/or lymph glands in the neck.
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