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Several tests may be used to diagnose cancer of the ovary. The tests may also show the stage of the cancer – whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. These tests help your doctor to know the best way to treat the cancer.
You may have one or more of the following tests:
You may have a pelvic or vaginal ultrasound to check for any enlargement or abnormalities of the ovaries, which may be due to a cyst or tumour. The test can also be used to show the size and position of a cancer. It will be done in the hospital scanning department.
If you have a pelvic ultrasound you will be asked to drink plenty of fluids so that your bladder is full. This helps to give a clearer picture. Once you are lying comfortably on your back a gel is spread onto your abdomen. A small device, which produces sound waves, is then rubbed over the area. The sound waves are converted into a picture by a computer.
If you have a vaginal ultrasound scan, a probe with a rounded end is put into your vagina. The probe produces sound waves, which are converted into a picture by a computer. Although this type of ultrasound scan may sound uncomfortable, many women find it more comfortable than having a pelvic ultrasound, as it’s not necessary to have a full bladder.
A CT (computerised tomography) scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan takes 10–30 minutes and is painless. It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.
You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. It’s important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.
You’ll probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.
Having a CT scan
View a larger image of a CT scan here|
This test uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet so you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist to make sure it’s safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, for example a pacemaker, surgical clips, bone pins, etc. You should also tell your doctor if you’ve ever worked with metal or in the metal industry as very tiny fragments of metal can sometimes lodge in the body. If you do have any metal in your body it’s likely that you won’t be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation another type of scan can be used.
Before the scan, you’ll be asked to remove any metal belongings including jewellery. Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which doesn’t usually cause discomfort. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly. During the test you’ll lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It’s painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s also noisy, but you’ll be given earplugs or headphones. You can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.
If there has been a build-up of fluid in the abdomen or chest, a sample of the fluid can be taken to check for any cancer cells. The doctor will use a local anaesthetic to numb the area before passing a small needle through the skin. Some fluid is drawn off into a syringe and examined under a microscope.
Sometimes the sample of fluid is taken while you are having an ultrasound scan. The scan helps guide the doctor to the fluid.
This operation allows the doctor to look at the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the womb and the surrounding area. It’s done under a general anaesthetic. Most women usually go home the same day but you may have to stay in hospital overnight.
While you are under the anaesthetic, the doctor makes 3–4 small cuts, approximately 1cm (½ inch) in length, in the skin and muscle of the lower abdomen. A thin fibre-optic tube (laparoscope) is then inserted. By looking through the laparoscope the doctor can look at the ovaries and take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) for examination under a microscope.
During the operation, carbon dioxide gas is passed into the abdominal cavity and this can cause uncomfortable wind and/or shoulder pains. The pain is often eased by walking about or by taking sips of peppermint water. If the pain continues when you are at home, or you develop a fever, you should contact the hospital for advice.
After a laparoscopy you will have some small stitches in your lower abdomen. You should be able to get up as soon as the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off.
Sometimes cancer of the ovary cannot be diagnosed before a full operation| (laparotomy) is carried out.
It will probably take several days for the results of your tests to be ready and a follow-up appointment will be arranged for you before you go home. Obviously, this waiting period is an anxious time, and it may help you to talk things over with a close friend, a relative, the hospital specialist nurse or a support organisation|. You can also contact one of our cancer support specialists.
Content last reviewed: 1 February 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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