Every year thousands of women in US go for ovarian cancer diagnosis. Around 22,000 of them show positive for ovarian cancer after undergoing several diagnostic tests. For many women these tests can be confusing and scary. This is often, because they do not know what these tests are about and how they are done.
Therefore, learning about the various ovarian cancer diagnostic tests will help release some of the stress that many women face while undergoing these tests.
Types of Tests for Ovarian Cancer
Make an Appointment
In order to find out the exact cause of the various symptoms that you have been experiencing, you need to first make an appointment with a gynecologist. The gynecologist will ask you several questions regarding the symptoms that you have been experiencing, medical history, and whether you have a family history of ovarian cancer. Make sure that you describe all the symptoms correctly, because this ensures correct diagnosis.
Pelvic exam is the first exam that you will have to undergo. This is a physical exam that is done to check whether the ovary or ovaries are enlarged or not and whether there is any fluid in the abdomen, a condition called ascites.
What Happens During Pelvic Exam
The doctor first carefully examines the genitals, also known as the vulva. The first two fingers are inserted into the vagina and the other hand is placed on the abdomen. By pressing the abdomen gently the doctor is able to feel the ovaries and uterus. If there is any lump or abnormal mass in your lower abdomen, the doctor will be able to feel it during the pelvic exam.
The doctor will then insert a speculum into the vagina. This device opens up the vagina and the doctor is able to clearly see the cervix and vagina. If there is any abnormality in your vagina or cervix, the doctor will be able to see it.
Ultrasound is the next test that is usually recommended after a pelvic exam. In an ultrasound, high frequency sound waves are used to create images of the scanned body part. It is a completely non-invasive test and will not take much of your time. The doctor will first scan your abdomen and then your vagina.
The ultrasound machine consists of a console with a computer screen. The sound waves are transmitted and received through a device called a transducer. When scanning your abdomen, the doctor will slowly rotate the transducer over your lower abdomen and pelvic area. The ultrasound will create real time images of your pelvic area.
The doctor will then proceed to do a transvaginal ultrasound. The abdominal ultrasound is not able to provide clear images of the uterus and ovaries, thus doctors use transvaginal ultrasound along with the abdominal ultrasound to get a clear picture. During a transvaginal ultrasound, the transducer is inserted inside the vagina. The ovaries, uterus, and other nearby structures are imaged during this scan.
CA (Cancer Antigen) 125 blood test is done to find out the level of CA 125 in the blood. CA 125 is a name given to cancer antigen. CA 125 becomes abnormally high in women with ovarian cancer.
However, it has been noted that in many early stage ovarian cancer cases, CA 125 does not show up high in the blood test. Moreover, many medical conditions, such as endometriosis, also show high level of CA 125 in blood. What this means is that CA 125 results cannot be taken as definitive for ovarian cancer. Your doctor will definitely recommend further tests to confirm the presence of ovarian cancer.
Other Blood Tests
Other blood tests will also be done to see the counts for white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. High level of white blood cells indicates that there is something wrong. A blood test to see how the liver and kidneys are functioning will also be done.
Computed tomography (CT) scan is often recommended to see if the ovarian cancer has spread to other organs. The whole process will take around 40 minutes and is completely painless. During the scan you will have to lie very still on a table. The scanner, which is large and round shaped, will move around you and take pictures. CT scanner takes multiple x-rays of the concerned area. It produces cross-sectional images of various body parts and tumor.
You will be asked to drink small amount of oral contrast liquid before the scan begins. This liquid will clearly highlight the intestine and doctors will not mistake the intestine for a tumor.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology makes use of powerful magnets and radio waves to create images of various body parts and tumors. MRI scans are also able to produce cross sectional images of the body. Though MRI scan is not used often for detection of ovarian cancer, it is quite helpful in finding out how far the ovarian cancer has spread.
During your positron emission tomography scan, you will be given radioactive glucose. Cancer cells ingest glucose at a far higher rate than normal cells and tissues. If cancer cells are present, they will obviously show higher concentration of radioactive glucose. The PET scan will be able to detect this concentration and thus confirm the presence of ovarian cancer. Doctors often use PET scan in combination with CT scan to get a better understanding of the ovarian cancer.
This is a type of a surgery that is done, if the other diagnostic tests have shown the presence of ovarian cancer. Exploratory laparotomy surgery can confirm hundred percent whether ovarian cancer is present or not. This surgery is only done by a gynecologic oncologist.
The doctor will make a vertical incision in your abdomen. The doctor will take tissue samples and fluid from the ovaries, abdominal cavity, nearby lymph nodes, uterus, diaphragm’s surface, and other organs near the ovaries.
The collected sample is immediately sent for microscopic observation. The pathologist will immediately notify, if cancerous cells are present or not. If the test turns out positive for cancerous cells, the surgeon will then remove the ovaries, uterus, and both the fallopian tubes right then and there. The goal is to remove as much of the cancerous cells as possible. This is often the first step in the treatment of ovarian cancer.
This surgery is not as invasive as the exploratory laparotomy. This surgery involves the insertion of a flexible tube through an insertion made in the abdomen. The flexible tube is called a laparoscope and is fitted with a camera. The laparoscope helps the surgeon see the condition of the ovaries, abdomen, and the pelvic area.
Some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer resemble symptoms associated with bowel problems. Therefore, doctors often recommend colonoscopy to completely rule out bowel problems.
You will be required to take some laxatives to completely clean out the large intestine. A fiberoptic tube, fitted with a camera, will be inserted inside the rectum to all the way to the colon. If there are any abnormalities, the doctor will be able to see it on a monitor.
After all the tests have been completed, the doctor will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis of your condition. The exploratory laparotomy surgery will help the surgeon determine the stage and type of ovarian cancer that the patient has. Once the diagnosis is complete the doctor can begin the treatment.
Photo Credit: http://www.mdguidelines.com/cancer-ovary