Ovarian Cancer: Early Detection and Screenings

Dr. Elias Zeine

With more than 21,000 women estimated to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, cases are on the rise, according to the American Cancer Society.

The nature of the disease, in that there are no obvious symptoms in its early stages, sees ovarian cancer becoming one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in women.

Lacking significant warning signs or direct early symptoms often lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment, making early detection key for any treatment.

“One of the most critical challenges concerning ovarian cancer is its silent nature,” said Dr. Elias Zeine, an oncologist with the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Central Michigan.

Dr. Zeine added, “During the early stages of ovarian cancer, symptoms are often vague. It is vital for women to listen to their bodies and report to their doctors any new or persistent symptoms that can be easily dismissed but could actually indicate the presence of the cancer.”

These symptoms can include:

  • Bloating or abdominal discomfort.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Changes in bowel movements or urinary patterns.
  • Feeling full quickly while eating.

If these symptoms persist for a prolonged length of time, women should consult their primary care providers.

Currently, there is no effective ovarian cancer screening test for women who do not have a personal or family history of ovarian cancer and do not carry certain abnormal genes.

However, for women with high-risk family history, screening for ovarian cancer every 6 months is recommended.

Factors that increase the risk of ovarian cancer include:

  • Having one or more close relatives with ovarian cancer.
  • Having abnormalities in certain genes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.
  • Having genes that are linked to hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome).

Women with any of the high-risk factors should discuss screening options and recommended schedules with their health care providers.

Tests that may be useful for women at high risk of ovarian cancer include a blood test of the CA 125 tumor marker, ultrasound, or a combination of the two.

  • CA 125 tumor marker — CA 125 is a protein that is higher than normal in approximately 80 percent of women with ovarian cancer. It can be measured with a blood test, and the protein is commonly used to monitor women with ovarian cancer.
  • Pelvic ultrasound — Pelvic ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the organs in the pelvis, including the ovaries, for detection of any abnormalities.

“Being aware of these potential symptoms and screening options can directly increase a woman’s chance of survival if they should ever be diagnosed with the cancer,” Dr. Zeine said.

To make an appointment with a McLaren Central Michigan primary care provider to discuss ovarian cancer risk and screening options, visit mclaren.org/appointments.

Learn more about the capabilities of the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Central Michigan at mclaren.org/centralcancer.