Ovarian cancer diagnosis

You will have some tests to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and to find out whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

CA 125 level

CA 125 is a chemical which may be produced by ovarian cancer cells and released into the bloodstream. It is called a tumour marker and the level may be higher in women with ovarian cancer. However, the level isn’t always raised in early-stage ovarian cancer, and the level can be raised in women who have other non-cancerous conditions.

Your doctor will ask for a blood sample to be taken to measure your level of CA 125. The test will be repeated regularly as one part of the overall check on your progress during treatment.


In some cases, women with ovarian cancer may notice that they have swelling of the abdomen or fluid collecting around their abdomen. This collection of fluid is called ascites and can cause bloating and discomfort.

Draining off the fluid will relieve this. The doctor can insert a cannula (small tube) into the abdomen to slowly drain the fluid over 24 to 48 hours. A local anaesthetic will be used to numb the area. A sample of this fluid can be removed and sent for cytology (the study of cells) where it will be examined to see if there are cancer cells present.

You may have other tests, which include an abdominal ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan.


The information from these tests is used to assess the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. This is called ‘staging’. Your doctors need to know the extent of the cancer to help them decide on the most appropriate treatment for you.

Staging of ovarian cancer is based on a physical examination, the results of tests and what the doctors find at the time of surgery.

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