Ovarian cancer screening is a way for doctors to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in those who have no symptoms of the disease. To screen for ovarian cancer, doctors can do a blood test called CA 125, an imaging test called an ultrasound, or both. These tests do not always give useful information about whether someone has ovarian cancer. Still, doctors sometimes recommend them for people who are at high risk for ovarian cancer. Experts do not recommend screening for those who are not at high risk.
The goal of screening is to find cancer early, before it has a chance to grow, spread or cause problems. Unfortunately, there is no good proof that screening for ovarian cancer actually helps people live longer.
Screening can involve a blood test, an ultrasound or both. The blood test used most often is called CA 125. Other tests are also available or being studied.
It is not clear who should be screened for ovarian cancer. For now, experts agree that:
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or have genes that put you at risk of getting ovarian cancer, discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor. They can help you decide if screening is right for you.
The main benefit of screening is that it might help doctors find cancer early when it should be easier to treat. This might lower your chances of dying of ovarian cancer.
The main drawback of being screened is that it can lead to false positives, meaning that screening shows that you might have cancer when you actually do not. This can lead to unneeded worry and to more tests. Sometimes, a false positive test could lead to unneeded surgery.
After ovarian cancer screening, you should get a phone call or letter with your results. If you do not hear back about your results within two weeks, call your doctor or nurse's office. Do not assume that your screening test was normal if you hear nothing.
If your test is abnormal, don't panic. Many people who have abnormal results turn out not to have ovarian cancer. You will need more tests to find out whether or not you actually have cancer. Most people with abnormal results find out they do not have cancer after further testing. But some people with abnormal results need surgery to know for sure if they have cancer. This surgery is usually done through small incisions (cuts), using a tool called a "laparoscope."
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