For example, CA-125 levels are normal when ovarian cancer is confined to the ovaries in half of postmenopausal women. Some ovarian cancers do not produce enough CA-125 to cause a positive result. Other benign conditions may increase CA-125 levels. This test is most effective in women who have been treated for ovarian cancer to determine if cancer has recurred.
- abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound, sound waves are used to distinguish fluid-filled cysts from solid ones.
- CAT scan, which produces x-ray images of cross sections of body tissues.
- lower GI series (barium dye enema), which visualizes the bowel on X-ray to detect abnormal areas that may be caused by ovarian cancer or bowel problems.
- intravenous pyelogram, which produces x-rays of the kidneys, bladder and ureters; often, ovarian cysts or tumors can cause pressure on these organs. Before the x-ray is taken, a fluid (a contrast agent) is injected into your veins that will highlight your urinary tract.
If your health care professional suspects ovarian cancer from the tests previously mentioned, the only sure way to diagnose ovarian cancer is through microscopic examination of abnormal fluid or tissue. Although fluid can be obtained by needle aspiration, surgery is usually used to diagnose ovarian cancer and to remove the cancerous growth and any tissue to which the cancer has spread.
If cancer is suspected, the surgeon usually removes the entire affected ovary to ensure that all potentially abnormal areas are removed. A pathologist evaluates the tissue and if cancer is confirmed, typically the second ovary, the uterus and the fallopian tubes are removed.
Inherited Defects for Ovarian Cancer
To date, about five percent of ovarian cancer cases are caused by inherited defects in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Genes, the pieces of the chemical DNA within your cells that are inherited from your parents, determine many aspects of your body's make-up. Scientists have known for years that genes determine risk for developing a disease like cancer.