Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

Woman holding teal awareness ribbon against light background, closeup; blog: Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so now is the ideal time to learn more about this disease, how it’s diagnosed, and how it can be treated. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), 1 in 78 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. We’re here to help you understand what happens before and after an ovarian cancer diagnosis. 

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, especially in the early stages. This is partly due to the fact that the ovaries – two small, almond-shaped organs on either side of the uterus – are deep within the abdominal cavity. 

The following are often identified by women as some of the most common signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation or menstrual changes

If symptoms are new and persist for more than two weeks, it is recommended that a woman see her doctor, and a gynecologic oncologist for further information and testing to confirm an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

Tests Used for Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

According to the NOCC, almost 80% of women with an ovarian cancer diagnosis were diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease. In these cases, the prognosis is poor. Spreading awareness about ovarian cancer and when women should get tested may help with earlier diagnoses and better outcomes.

Three is no official screening test for ovarian cancer diagnosis. No one test is consistently reliable enough to be standard. However, there are three tests that can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer. Women who are at high risk for ovarian cancer should be offered these tests by their primary women’s health provider:

  1. Pelvic Exam: Women age 18 and older should have a mandatory annual vaginal exam. Women age 35 and older should receive an annual rectovaginal exam (physician inserts fingers in the rectum and vagina simultaneously to feel for abnormal swelling and to detect tenderness).
  2. Transvaginal Sonography: This ultrasound, performed with a small instrument placed in the vagina, is appropriate, especially for women at high risk for ovarian cancer, or for those with an abnormal pelvic exam.
  3. CA-125 Test: This blood test determines if the level of CA-125, a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells, has increased in the blood of a woman at high risk for ovarian cancer, or a woman with an abnormal pelvic examination.
    • While CA-125 is an important test, it is not always a key marker for the disease. Some non-cancerous diseases of the ovaries can also increase CA-125 levels, and some ovarian cancers may not produce enough CA-125 levels to cause a positive test. For these reasons, the CA-125 test is not routinely used as a screening test for those at average risk for ovarian cancer.

If any of these tests are positive, a woman should consult with a gynecologic oncologist, who may conduct a CT scan and evaluate the test results. However, the only way to more accurately confirm an ovarian cancer diagnosis is with a biopsy, a procedure in which the doctor takes a sample of the tumor and examines it under a microscope.

Ovarian Cancer Treatment Options

If an ovarian cancer diagnosis is made, then there are several different treatment options available. Often, women will use a combination of treatments to fight the disease. For instance, surgery and chemotherapy are often used together.

  • Surgery: Surgery to remove the cancerous growth is the most common method of diagnosis and therapy for ovarian cancer. It is best performed by a qualified gynecologic oncologist.
    • Most women with ovarian cancer will have surgery at some point during the course of their disease, and each surgery has different goals.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer using chemicals designed to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. The goal of chemotherapy is to cure cancer, shrink tumors prior to surgery or radiation therapy, destroy cells that might have spread, or control tumor growth.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-­energy X­-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Please note that this therapy is rarely used in the treatment of ovarian cancer in the United States. It is more often used in other parts of the body where cancer has spread.
  • Complementary therapies: Complementary therapies are diverse practices and products that are used along with conventional medicine. Many women have tried and benefited from the complementary therapies listed below. Speaking with other women, in addition to the healthcare team, can suggest the therapies that may be most helpful and appropriate for each woman’s lifestyle.

Talk to Your OB/GYN

The physicians, nurses, and medical staff at Kernodle OB/GYN offer a comprehensive list of gynecological and obstetric services to the women in Burlington and Mebane, NC. If you have questions or concerns about your reproductive health, including ovarian cancer, call us at (336) 538-2367 to make an appointment.

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