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What is ovarian cancer screening? — Ovarian cancer screening is a way for doctors to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in people 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 a person has ovarian cancer. Still, doctors sometimes recommend them for people who are at high risk for ovarian cancer. Experts do not recommend screening for people 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.
How does ovarian cancer screening work? — 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.
●CA 125 blood tests – CA 125 is a protein in the blood that goes up when a person has ovarian cancer. The trouble is, this protein also goes up in other health conditions that do not involve cancer. This test can help find ovarian cancer in some people, but it does not always clearly show whether or not the person has it.
●Pelvic ultrasound – During a pelvic ultrasound, an ultrasound technician inserts a small device into your vagina. The device uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body.
Ultrasounds can find abnormal growths on the ovaries, but they cannot tell whether the growths are caused by cancer. Sometimes, these growths are caused by less serious health conditions or even normal changes that happen during the menstrual cycle (monthly period).
Who should be screened for ovarian cancer? — It is not clear who should be screened for ovarian cancer. For now, experts agree that:
●People who are at low risk for ovarian cancer do not need to be screened. This includes people who do not have a family history of ovarian cancer or a cancer gene (described below).
●People who are at high risk for ovarian cancer, and still have their ovaries, should sometimes be screened. This includes people who have a family history of ovarian cancer or a gene that increases their chances of getting ovarian cancer. People with the highest risk include those who have had genetic tests showing that they:
•Carry genes known as the "BRCA" genes
•Have a genetic condition called Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer ("HNPCC")
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or have genes that put you at risk for getting ovarian cancer, discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor. They can help you decide if screening is right for you.
What are the benefits of being screened for ovarian cancer? — 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.
What are the drawbacks to being screened for ovarian cancer? — The main drawback of being screened is that it can lead to "false positives." This is when 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.
What happens after screening? — 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 2 weeks, call your doctor or nurse's office. Do not assume that your screening test was normal if you hear nothing.
What if my screening test is abnormal? — If your test is abnormal, don't panic. Many people who have abnormal results do not 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 that 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 can be done through small incisions (cuts), using a tool called a "laparoscope," or through a larger incision in the front of the belly.
Patient education: Screening for ovarian cancer (Beyond the Basics)
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Patient education: Ovarian cancer diagnosis and staging (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Treatment of ovarian cancer (Beyond the Basics)
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