Doctors use two procedures for detecting early signs of ovarian cancer. However, neither of these screening methods is considered to be accurate enough for use in the general population. Instead, they are primarily used in women who have a family history of ovarian cancer or who have a known or suspected mutation in one of the genes that are known to increase a woman's risk of ovarian cancer.
| For an ovarian cancer screening test to be useful, it must be:
- Simple to perform
- Specific enough to identify those who don't have the disease
- And most importantly, sensitive enough to detect almost everyone who does have the disease.
In other words, a test that overlooks symptoms in some individuals or that falsely identifies them in others is not appropriate for the general population. There is simply too much room for error especially if that error can lead someone to believe that he or she is cancer-free. In such cases, the outcome can be disastrous.
Because there is no ovarian screening test that meets these criteria, there are no screening methods for ovarian cancer that are practical for the general population. However, for women who are at increased risk of ovarian cancer, two screening tools are available. These include transvaginal ultrasonography (a procedure to view the ovaries) which is also sometimes used with a technique called Doppler (which evaluates blood flow) and measurement of CA-125 levels (a chemical found in the bloodstream that may be elevated when an ovarian tumor is present).
Neither of these tests are 100 percent accurate, which is why they are not appropriate or recommended for the general population. However, ovarian cancer often fails to produce symptoms until it is advanced and has spread to other organs. So, even a test that is not totally accurate is preferable to no test at all in women who are at very high risk for the disease, if it can give the patient and the physician an indication that cancer might be developing. However, it is important to keep in mind that even in high risk women these tests have not be proven to help the women live longer.
this procedure, doctors look for a chemical, or tumor
marker called CA-125 in a woman's bloodstream. Because
ovarian cancers usually produce CA-125, an above-average
level can be an indicator of ovarian cancer. However,
CA-125 testing is far from the perfect screening method
More than 50 percent of early-stage tumors fail to
produce elevated CA-125 levels, meaning that CA-125
levels can remain low even when cancer is present.
benign conditions can lead to elevated CA-125 levels,
including pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease,
tuberculosis, and cirrhosis of the liver.
is more accurate to establish a baseline CA-125 test
and then compare future tests with the woman's own previous
test results. However, in women age 50 or older, it
appears to be better for distinguishing between benign
and malignant conditions.
Gargano, G. et al. (1990). The role of tumour markers
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Higgins, R.V. et al. (1989). Transvaginal sonography
as a screening method for ovarian cancer. Gynecol
Nagell, Jr. et al. (1990). Transvaginal sonography as
a screening method for ovarian cancer. A report of the
first 1000 cases screened. Cancer. 65(3):573-7.