Ovarian Cancer: What tests might your gynecologic oncologist perform?

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What tests might your gynecologic oncologist perform to determine treatment?

Most ovarian cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages (Stage III or IV). This means that at the time of diagnosis, the cancer has already spread beyond the female organs into the upper abdomen, lymph nodes or the chest. Despite this, the ability to surgically remove bulky tumors and the high likelihood that ovarian cancer will respond to chemotherapy means that most women with ovarian cancer will be in remission after their initial treatment. How long remission will last is impossible to predict.

If the cancer never comes back, that remission is considered a cure. However, most often, ovarian cancer does recur. The first two years after finishing initial treatment is the highest risk period. At the current time, recurrent ovarian cancer is not generally curable. The goals of treatment are to maximize quality of life while prolonging survival. Chemotherapy is the most common form of treatment for recurrent disease. Although this disease is known for its recurrent nature, there is increasing hope that a woman’s life may be extended with new treatments and lifestyle interventions.

If you have not already had the tests listed below, your gynecologist oncologist might order them prior to determining the appropriate treatment plan for your cancer.

Blood tests

Tumor markers (CA-125, CEA, CA 19-9, CA 27-29 and others): These tests give the doctor a better understanding of the likelihood that you have a cancer in your body. However, these tumor markers may be elevated even in the absence of a cancer, and some ovarian cancers do not have abnormal tumor markers. These tests may also help determine whether the cancer is coming from other parts of the body.

Complete blood count and comprehensive metabolic panel: Prior to performing surgery or administering chemotherapy, these tests help to determine your nutritional status in addition to low blood counts (requiring blood transfusion) and your ability to tolerate anesthesia and surgery. They may also help predict your ability to recover.

Imaging and tests

Ultrasound (U/S), CT (CAT) scan, or MRI

  • To better understand the location of your mass, cyst or tumor
  • To better understand if your tumor has spread to other parts of your body
  • If your doctor is not concerned about distant spread of your disease, it is reasonable to only have an ultrasound prior to surgery.

Chest X-ray and EKG

These tests may be performed before surgery to help you anesthesiologist know that your heart and lungs are healthy.

Stress test, echocardiogram, pulmonary function tests

These tests may be performed before surgery if you have an abnormal chest X-ray and EKG, or if you have complaints of chest pain or shortness of breath.

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Photo courtesy of the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Ohio