Ovarian Cancer Screening Guidelines

Paying attention to any changes to your body or health is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cancer. 

A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 78. Nearly 20,000 women will get a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer each year. 

Ovarian cancer screening is often about self-screening. Staying aware of any changes in your health or your body can help to detect cancer early. When ovarian cancer is caught early, the best course of action is to start treatment. 

There isn’t a regular screening for ovarian cancer for women at average risk. But it is important to pay attention to signs and symptoms:

  • Postmenopausal vaginal bleeding
  • Unusual or foul-smelling discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Unusual bloating
  • Feeling full too quickly or difficulty eating
  • More frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Constipation

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Certain things may put you at an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

  • Age
  • Family history of ovarian cancer – among your mother, sister, aunt or grandmother
  • Have a genetic mutation called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome
  • Have been diagnosed with breast, uterine or colorectal cancer
  • Have Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Have been diagnosed with endometriosis
  • Have never given birth or experienced infertility

Some women are at high risk of developing ovarian cancer due to gene mutations. You may want to talk to your primary care provider about genetic counseling, especially if you have a family history of ovarian cancer or are high risk. The more knowledge you have about your health, the better you’ll be able to prevent cancer or catch it at a very treatable early stage.

Screening Tests

Many times, screening is done through a simple pelvic exam. If any abnormalities are found, further testing may be done. A blood test may be ordered or a rectovaginal pelvic exam or transvaginal ultrasound may be done.

  • Transvaginal ultrasound – A wand-like probe is inserted into your vagina. The probe sends out sound waves that echo off the walls of your uterus. The sound waves are translated into an image on a screen. The inside of your uterus and changes in the thickness of the lining can be seen. An ultrasound can be used to see if a biopsy is needed.
  • Pelvic ultrasound – A wand is moved over the skin of your lower belly to get images of your uterus. Your bladder needs to be full for this test.

It’s important to know your body and pay attention to any changes. If you experience sudden unusual bloating, pain, cramping, weight gain, unusual or heavy bleeding, foul-smelling discharge or any other change, discuss these changes with your provider. 

What to Expect from a Pelvic Exam

Your provider will likely perform a pelvic exam to monitor any changes or abnormalities. 

A pelvic exam is a simple process to check for overall health of the organs contained in the pelvis – the uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, ovaries and bladder. Your provider will feel the organs and tissues in the pelvis to check for size, shape and position. 

  • After privately changing into the provided medical gown or cover, your provider will guide you through the steps.
  • Your provider will often start by visually looking at the vagina and vulva to make sure everything looks healthy.
  • Then, your provider will insert one or two fingers into the vagina and gently press from the outside and the inside of your body. This is to feel for any abnormalities.
  • The entire process only takes a few minutes.

Get Started

Schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to discuss your risk and what screening options are available. If you don’t have an OB/GYN, find one here.

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Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors
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