Ovarian Cancer (cont.)
In this Article
- Ovarian cancer facts*
- What are the ovaries?
- What is ovarian cancer?
- What are risk factors for ovarian cancer?
- Ovarian cancer symptoms
- How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
- How is staging for ovarian cancer determined?
- What is the treatment for ovarian cancer?
- Treatment methods
- Radiation therapy
- What are the side effects of treatment for ovarian cancer?
- What follow-up care is necessary?
- Where can ovarian cancer patients find support?
- What research is available for ovarian cancer patients?
- What resources are available to patients with ovarian cancer?
- Pictures of Ovarian Cancer - Slideshow
- Take the Ovarian Cancer Quiz
- 15 Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore - Slideshow
- Ovarian Cancer FAQs
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
Ovarian cancer symptoms
Early ovarian cancer may not cause obvious symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
- A swollen or bloated abdomen
- Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
- Feeling very tired all the time
Less common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling the need to urinate often
- Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)
Most often these symptoms are not due to cancer, but only a doctor can tell for sure. Any woman with these symptoms should tell her doctor.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
If you have a symptom that suggests ovarian cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history.
You may have one or more of the following tests. Your doctor can explain more about each test:
- Physical exam: Your doctor checks general signs of health. Your doctor may press on your abdomen to check for tumors or an abnormal buildup of fluid (ascites). A sample of fluid can be taken to look for ovarian cancer cells.
- Pelvic exam: Your doctor feels the ovaries and nearby organs for lumps or other changes in their shape or size. A Pap test is part of a normal pelvic exam, but it is not used to collect ovarian cells. The Pap test detects cervical cancer. The Pap test is not used to diagnose ovarian cancer.
- Blood tests: Your doctor may order blood tests. The lab may check the level of several substances, including CA-125. CA-125 is a substance found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells and on some normal tissues. A high CA-125 level could be a sign of cancer or other conditions. The CA-125 test is not used alone to diagnose ovarian cancer. This test is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for monitoring a woman's response to ovarian cancer treatment and for detecting its return after treatment.
- Ultrasound: The ultrasound device uses sound waves that people cannot hear. The device aims sound waves at organs inside the pelvis. The waves bounce off the organs. A computer creates a picture from the echoes. The picture may show an ovarian tumor. For a better view of the ovaries, the device may be inserted into the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).
- Biopsy: A biopsy is the removal of tissue or fluid to look for cancer cells. Based on the results of the blood tests and ultrasound, your doctor may suggest surgery (a laparotomy) to remove tissue and fluid from the pelvis and abdomen. Surgery is usually needed to diagnose ovarian cancer. To learn more about surgery, see the "Treatment" section.
Although most women have a laparotomy for diagnosis, some women have a procedure known as laparoscopy. The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube (a laparoscope) through a small incision in the abdomen. Laparoscopy may be used to remove a small, benign cyst or an early ovarian cancer. It may also be used to learn whether cancer has spread.
A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue or fluid. If ovarian cancer cells are found, the pathologist describes the grade of the cells. Grades 1, 2, and 3 describe how abnormal the cancer cells look. Grade 1 cancer cells are not as likely as to grow and spread as grade 3 cells.
Viewers share their comments
Get the latest treatment options.