Diagnosis and Treatment

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

  • A vaginal-rectal pelvic examination (also called a bimanual exam) – This exam allows the ovaries to be examined from many sides. Every woman should undergo a rectal and vaginal pelvic examination at her checkup with her gynecologist.
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound - This test uses sound waves to create a picture of the ovaries, and can often reveal if there are masses or irregularities on the surface of the ovaries. It cannot determine if you have cancer but it can show characteristics that give different levels of suspicion.
  • CA125 blood test - This test measures the level of a protein in the blood that may increase when a cancerous tumor is present. This protein is produced by ovarian cancer cells and is elevated in more than 80% of women with advanced ovarian cancers and 50% of those with early-stage cancers. CA125 is present in half of early cancers and can be elevated in benign conditions. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) does not endorse using it to screen women at ordinary risk or in the general population.
  • It is very important to note that none of these tests are definitive when used on their own. They are most effective when used in combination with each other. The only way to confirm the presence of ovarian cancer suspected by the above tests is through a surgical biopsy of the tumor tissue.
  • The PAP test is used to detect cervical cancer, NOT ovarian cancer.

If tests suggest the possibility of ovarian cancer, seek a referral to a gynecologic oncologist:

  • A gynecologic oncologist is a physician who specializes in treating women with reproductive tract cancers.
  • Gynecologic oncologists are initially trained as obstetrician/gynecologists and then undergo three to four years of specialized education in all of the effective forms of treatment for gynecologic cancers (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and experimental treatments) as well as the biology and pathology of gynecologic cancers.

Why is it so important to be treated by a gynecologic oncologist?

The importance of being treated by a gynecologic oncologist cannot be stressed enough. According to numerous medical studies, there are significant survival advantages for women who are treated, managed and operated on by a gynecologic oncologist.

  • Gynecologic oncologists are 5 times more likely to completely remove ovarian tumors during surgery
  • 80% of ovarian cancer patients receive inadequate surgical debulking and staging from non-gynecologic oncology surgeons
  • Survival rate and outcomes vastly improve with gynecologic oncologist

How can I find a gynecologic oncologist in my area?

  • Call The Gynecologic Cancer Foundation toll-free hotline at 1-800-444-4441 or visit them online at www.wcn.org

 How is ovarian cancer usually treated?

  • Surgery, debulking, and surgical staging (removal of ovarian tumors)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy when appropriate
  • Treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer needs to be determined by a gynecologic oncologist


Clinical Trials

  • You may be asked to participate in a clinical trial. The purpose of the clinical trial is to determine whether a new treatment is effective for ovarian cancer.  
  • Clinical trials are divided into three phases:  (Phase 1) Is to determine a dose range for the particular drug; (Phase 2) is to determine the response of the drug; and (Phase 3) to evaluate a large group of women with ovarian cancer to determine the effectiveness of the drug. 
  • Radiation therapy when appropriate
  • Treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer needs to be determined by a gynecologic oncologist


Where can I get more information and help?

Source: American Cancer Society, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, and National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.


To learn about how patients in treatment and remission can deal with the sleep-disrupting side effects of chemotherapy, steroids, and other treatments please visit: www.sleephelp.org/cancer-sleep/


Jennifer McGrath
Executive Director
Corporate Partner
Corporate Partner