Diagnosing ovarian cancer
Your GP is usually the first person you go to if you have symptoms. If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, there are several tests they can perform to help decide whether your symptoms are due to ovarian cancer or other causes. They will examine you, ask about your symptoms and possibly order a CA125 blood test and an ultrasound. They may also want to do an internal vaginal examination to see if your uterus and ovaries feel normal. If you prefer, you can ask for a female doctor to do this. It is your choice: do not be afraid to ask.
The CA125 blood test is looking for a specific type of protein or a tumour marker called CA125. This protein is often higher than normal in women with ovarian cancer.
An ultrasound creates a picture of your internal organs (ovaries and uterus) on a computer by using echoes from soundwaves. This test is done by a sonographer. It can be done in two ways:
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Transvaginal ultrasound (preferred as it gives a clearer picture)
If the ultrasound and other tests indicate you have cancer, your GP will refer you to a specialist in women’s health and cancer (a gynaecological oncologist). You should be seen within two weeks. Guidelines recommend your specialist is a gynaecological oncologist who works as part of a multi-disciplinary team. A list is available on Canrefer.
The specialist will do a physical examination and take a detailed health history. They will also ask you about your family history of cancer. They will most likely also order further tests to work out how far the cancer has grown and if it has spread to other parts of your body. Further tests may include:
- Computerised tomography (CT) scan is (a three-dimensional (3D) image of your internal organs
- Biopsy (a tissue sample (biopsy) is taken and tested to help confirm cancer)
- Chest x-ray to check if a cancer has spread to the lungs
- Removal of fluid from your abdomen if it has built up
- Laparoscopy to enable tissue samples to be taken for testing in the laboratory
- Laparotomy is offered if a laparoscopy is not suitable.
If you need further tests, your doctor will discuss them in more detail with you.
Waiting for results
Waiting for the results of your tests is usually a stressful time. You and those close to you are likely to feel very nervous and worry about what your future holds. It is only natural to think the worst. However, try to take it one day at a time. Some tests will come back within a day or two but others can take much longer: up to a week or more. The waiting can feel like an eternity.
It can help to ask your doctors and nurses exactly how long it will take to get each result back. Having this information can help control your anxiety and stop waking each day hoping ‘today will be the day’. During the waiting time you may find it helps to speak with close friends and family, and you can also call the Ovarian Cancer Australia Helpline to speak to an ovarian cancer nurse on 1300 660 334 during business hours.