Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer

An ovarian cancer diagnosis brings uncertainty into the lives of the affected woman and her loved ones. It can be challenging to cope with a diagnosis. However, by understanding how ovarian cancer is diagnosed, families can be better prepared to take the steps they need to heal.

Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis Overview

The diagnosis stage is crucial if you or someone you love is showing symptoms of ovarian cancer. By getting an accurate diagnosis, you can confirm that the cancer is present or if you have another illness altogether.

Doctors perform a series of tests to diagnose ovarian cancer. The most important of these tests is a biopsy, which tests a tissue sample for cancer cells.

Diagnosing ovarian cancer requires attention from both the patient and the doctor. Symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to more common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or menopause. Thus, it may not be caught until it has already spread to other places in the body.

Though an ovarian cancer diagnosis is life-changing, it allows women and their families to take their next steps toward recovery. If you are still unsure whether you have ovarian cancer, a second opinion from another doctor can help narrow down the cause of your symptoms.

Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer

Diagnosing ovarian cancer is tricky because there is no uniform test for it. Further, its early symptoms are not easily detected. However, it can be diagnosed relatively early if close attention is paid to the warning signs.

See your doctor if any of the following symptoms worsen or do not go away after a few weeks:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of appetite

According to the American Cancer Society, those who are diagnosed during the early stages of ovarian cancer have a 92% chance of reaching 5-year survivorship. This is because the cancer has not yet spread outside of the ovaries.

By detecting ovarian cancer earlier on, women and their families can be more prepared to manage and treat the cancer.

An important way to detect ovarian cancer early on is to know if your health history may put you at risk. Knowing your potential risk factors and sharing them with your doctor can help you take precautions against getting ovarian cancer. Further, you will be more prepared if you are diagnosed.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Certain conditions may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. These conditions, known as risk factors, are not a guarantee that you will get cancer. However, they should be taken note of. Letting your doctor know if you have risk factors of ovarian cancer can help them recommend precautions and look out for early symptoms.

Factors that increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:

  • Family History: You are more likely to develop ovarian cancer if members of your family had breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Also, those with Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern Europe) heritage are more likely to develop ovarian cancer.
  • Previous Cancer: If you developed another form of cancer—particularly breast cancer or bowel cancer—before you turned 40, your risk of ovarian cancer is increased.
  • Mutated Genes: Gene mutations or syndromes passed down from your relatives can increase your cancer risk. The presence of Lynch syndrome and BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may put you at a higher risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10% of all ovarian cancer cases are caused by inherited gene mutations.

In addition to these risk factors, recent lawsuits and legal documents have linked talcum powder use to ovarian cancer.  In 2018, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson® to pay nearly $4.7 Billion to a group of women after a claim that the company’s talcum powder caused the women to develop ovarian cancer.

If you used talcum powder or other products that contain talc (such as some types of deodorant, makeup and other cosmetic products) you could have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of ovarian cancer is a multi-step process. Women who suspect that they have ovarian cancer should see their doctor as soon as possible. If their doctor believes there is a risk of ovarian cancer, the woman will undergo a pelvic examination.

Most women have annual pelvic exams that check for any potential problems. However, women who are at risk of developing ovarian cancer should get these exams more often. During these pelvic exams, doctors check to see if the ovaries are enlarged or if there are any noticeable lumps.

If your doctor thinks there is cause for concern, they will order a series of tests for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Tests

Leading cancer organizations and doctors use several scans to look for warning signs of ovarian cancer. Each test plays an important role in the diagnosis process.

The most commonly used tests are:

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests can be used to measure the levels of CA 125, a protein associated with most (but not all) ovarian cancer cases. However, this test is not as reliable because other conditions can cause CA 125 levels to be high.
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound (TVUS): A TVUS captures images of the vagina and other areas of concern like the fallopian tubes and uterus. It can be used to detect tissue masses. However, according to the American Cancer Society, a TVUS cannot determine if these masses are cancerous.
  • Biopsy: In a biopsy, samples of fluids or tissue are taken and examined for cancer cells. According to leading cancer research centers like the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a biopsy is the only way to confirm you have ovarian cancer.

In addition, doctors may use other tests like CT, MRI and PET scans to determine if your cancer may have spread to other parts of your body. These additional tests can determine the best way to treat your cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Prognosis

After an ovarian cancer diagnosis has been made, doctors will share the expected outcome of the cancer. This is known as a prognosis. For ovarian cancer, the prognosis depends on how far the cancer has progressed at the time of diagnosis. Ovarian cancer has 4 stages that determine its progression.

The 4 stages are:

  • Stage 1: In stage 1, the cancer is contained to the inside of the ovaries and/or fallopian tubes. Because the cancer is contained, it is easier to treat. In some cases, the tumor may have ruptured, causing cancer cells to spread to other places. Unfortunately, less than 15% of all cases of ovarian cancer are caught in stage 1.
  • Stage 2: In stage 2, the cancer has started to spread through the fallopian tubes, ovaries and the uterus. As it progresses, the cancer can move into the bladder or rectum. Cancers diagnosed at stage 2 can still be treated effectively because it has not yet spread into the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: Cancer cells have spread through other organs near the pelvis by stage 3. Doctors may find cancerous cells in the lymph nodes and/or abdomen lining.
  • Stage 4: By stage 4, cancer cells have spread to reach various body parts. It may be found in the lymph nodes, bones, lungs and lung fluid or other areas. Nearly 60% of all cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed after it has spread to distant sites.

As of 2018, about 47% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have at least a 5-year survival rate. Survival statistics vary for each individual stage. However, survival rates continue to improve as doctors find better ways to manage and treat ovarian cancer.

Getting a Second Opinion

Once you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you may want to seek a second opinion. A second opinion is an evaluation of your symptoms from another doctor or medical specialist. Getting a second opinion can help you and your family in a few different ways.

Common benefits of a second opinion include:

  • Confirm or Refute a Diagnosis: Arguably, the most important part of getting a second opinion is to make sure you were diagnosed correctly. There have been cases where women have received a misdiagnosis and were treated for a disease that they did not have. A second opinion limits the chances of this happening.
  • Different Prognosis & Treatment Options: Even if a second opinion leads to the same diagnosis, what comes after could be very different. The initial prognosis could be very different, or you could learn of other treatment options to help extend your life.

By seeking a second opinion, you are learning exactly what actions you can take to manage and treat your ovarian cancer. You can also learn about different treatment options that may better suit your needs, such as clinical trials or surgeries.

Steps to Take After a Diagnosis

It is shocking to learn that you or someone you love has ovarian cancer. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to help you heal.

Treatment for ovarian cancer should begin as early as possible, especially if the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Treatment for ovarian cancer includes:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery

The cost of these treatments can add up, especially because a cancer diagnosis can catch a family off guard. Some families may not even be able to afford the life-extending or life-saving treatments they deserve.

As ovarian cancer becomes increasingly linked to products that contain talcum powder, manufacturers may be responsible for your diagnosis. Talcum powder companies wrongfully hid the truth that their products were dangerous.

If you believe your ovarian cancer diagnosis is linked to talcum powder, contact us for a free legal consultation.

Author:Talcum Powder Cancer Guide Editorial Team
Talcum Powder Cancer Guide Editorial Team

Talcum Powder Cancer Guide helps people understand the risks of talcum powder, what was thought to be a harmless product. The site was inspired by a group of medical experts and lawyers who were concerned about the dangers of talcum powder after lawsuits linked it to cancer. Talcum Powder Cancer Guide’s editorial team uses up-to-date studies and reports to help readers make informed health and legal choices.

Last modified: February 4, 2019

View 8 References
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