Medical Q&As

Ovarian cancer - screening?

I am a 21-year-old woman. My mother died form breast cancer, with secondary lymph and ovarian cancer. Three of her sisters have had breast cancer, one has died, and another one also had ovarian and cervical cancer at different times and had a full hysterectomy. I examine my breasts every month and have had my first smear test a year ago, and am due another soon. Is there any screening I can undergo for ovarian cancer or any self-examination or symptoms I should be aware of. It worries me a lot.

Self-examination is not really an option for early detection of ovarian cancer because an enlarged ovary can only be felt when it has grown to a significant size. Also there is no single reliable test that will detect cancer of the ovary in its earliest stages. There are a number of tests available that can give useful information when they are performed together. These include a blood test for CA-125 and an ultrasound scan of the pelvis. CA-125 is a substance that is shed by cancer cells that is detectable in the blood. If this test were abnormal in conjunction with an abnormal ultrasound examination this would be suggestive of ovarian cancer. However, the test for CA-125 can be normal in approximately 20% of women with ovarian cancer. Your question touches on a very topical area of debate in cancer screening and management. It might be worth discussing with your GP the option of seeing a gynaecologist with a special interest in ovarian cancer in order to get a specialist opinion on your particular situation.