Ovarian Cancer is Difficult to Diagnose but Tests Are Available to Detect it

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Sep 04, 2013
Quick Bites

  • Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries of female body with formation of tumour cells or cysts.
  • It accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
  • Women are more likely to have symptoms when the disease spreads beyond ovaries.
  • Laparoscopy, colonoscopy and biopsy are tests done to detect ovarian cancer.

As ovarian cancer can be very hard to diagnose and treat, it has always been an apprehension for medical practitioners to determine perfect diagnosis for ovarian cancer. Ovaries are reproductive glands found in women. Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries of female body with formation of tumour cells or cysts.

tests to detect ovarian cancerIt is a common cause of cancerous deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. However the positive news at the rate of cases diagnosed with ovarian cancer has reduced slowly over two decades.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

There are several symptoms of ovarian cancer. It is important to identify the disease at its early stage for a complete treatment because women are more likely to have symptoms when the disease spreads beyond ovaries. The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Increase in frequency of urination and always have feeling like she has to urinate.
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Abdominal swelling with weight loss

However, these symptoms may be found in case of other diseases as well; that’s why it is very important to have precise diagnosis for ovarian cancer. There are various diagnosis methods and tests which can be utilized to find out this disease. These are:


Laparoscopy is one of the most established ways to diagnose ovarian cancer. During laparoscopy a thin lighted tube is inserted in the lower abdomen of the patient through a small incision. The doctor is able to look at the images of ovaries and other pelvic organs on their computer screen. The thorough inspection of the images helps doctor to detect presence of tumour cells in the ovaries.


Colonoscopy is a test that allows doctors to perform internal examination of the large intestine (colon) and rectum (the lower part of the large intestine). The large intestine should be cleaned with laxatives before colonoscopy. Later the doctor inserts a fibre optic tube into the rectum and passes it through the entire colon of the patient. The images are sent by the tube to a video monitor connected to it which allows the doctor to see internally and detect tumours. In various cases, colonoscopy can be painful for the patient that’s why they might be given sedatives before the procedure.


Biopsy is a test which can provide certainty about the presence or absence of ovarian cancer in a female body. A tiny part of tissue is removed from the suspicious area of the organ to examine presence of cyst or tumour in the ovary. The pathologist uses the microscope to examine the tissue.

The other way to implement biopsy is by taking sample of the fluid build ups inside the abdomen. This process of biopsy is called Paracentesis. The fluid is removed from the body by passing a syringe through the abdominal wall to extract the fluid of abdominal cavity. The sucked up fluid is sent to the pathological lab for studies to verify presence of cancer cells.

Blood tests or CA-125 Test

A doctor asks for a CA-125 (cancer antigen 125 or carbohydrate antigen 125) test or blood count tests to check presence of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets (cells that help stop bleeding) in the blood. This test also verifies the proper functioning of kidney and liver. Patients diagnosed with high amount of CA-125 level are referred for treatment of ovarian cancer.
In few cases of ovarian tumour, levels of inhibin (a hormone) and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone go up. The levels of these hormones are also checked if there is suspicion of ovarian cancer.

Other Helpful Tests and Examinations

Physical examination/ Pelvic examination

Imaging studies

In this process the doctor tries to find out sings of ovarian cancer by checking genitals physically without the help of any machine or technology. He/she insets his two fingers inside the vagina of the patient and simultaneously presses the abdomen of the patient with his other hand to feel the uterus and ovaries. In few cases the doctor may insert a device called speculum inside woman’s vagina to open the space for visual check up of the vagina and cervix.

With the advancement of technology, there are various tests available like computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and ultrasound studies to confirm ovarian cancer. These imaging studies do not confirm the presence of ovarian cancer but the images are very helpful for the doctors to diagnose the disease.


Ultrasound is also used to detect ovarian cancer. The sound waves are used to create an image of female vagina on the screen of ultrasound machine. Sound waves are released from the apparatus on the surface of patient’s abdomen. It is always suggested by the doctor’s in case of symptoms of ovarian cancer. Ultrasound is used to find tumour and to see if there is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst inside the patient’s vagina.

Computed tomography (CT) scans


CT scan is now a popular practice among medical practitioners to diagnose a disease with complexities. It is an x-ray procedure that produces detailed cross-sectional images of the body. The benefit with CT scan is that it provides several images of the body parts unlike conventional x-ray which gives only one at a time. A computer combines all the pictures received into one which can be obliging to diagnose tumour cells.

Barium enema x-ray

Barium enema X-ray is used to check if cancer has affected the other organs such as large intestine or rectum. Laxatives are given to the person to be diagnosed a day before Barium enema x-ray. On the day of x-ray the technician puts barium sulphate, a chemical into the rectum and colon (large intestine). As barium is resistant to x-rays, it delineates the colon and rectum on x-rays of the abdomen. However, colonoscopy is a better option for diagnosis.

Read more articles on Ovarian Cancer.

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