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The path to making an ovarian cancer diagnosis usually begins when a physician notices an enlarged ovary while performing a pelvic examination on a woman, or if there are signs of swelling and fluid accumulation in her abdomen.

Because early symptoms are often vague, it is vital for a woman to be aware of changes in her body and to promptly see a physician when she notices anything out of the ordinary, such as pelvic pain or abdominal bloating. When these types of symptoms are present, a physician will likely begin with a pelvic exam and order tests for further evaluation.

Diagnostic testing for ovarian cancer

In order to make an ovarian cancer diagnosis, a physician may utilize various types of testing.

Pelvic exams

A pelvic exam typically includes a physical check of the vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, uterus and rectum. During this exam, the physician will be looking for any visible or palpable abnormalities.

Imaging tests

To get a good look at the inside of a woman’s abdomen and pelvis, a physician can order various imaging tests. For instance, these tests can help show the size, shape and structure of the ovaries or detect pelvic masses. Some types of imaging tests that may be used for ovarian cancer diagnosis include:

  • Ultrasounds
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans

Other imaging tests – such as chest X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) or colonoscopies – may be used to determine if ovarian cancer has spread.

Blood tests

Elevated levels of certain tumor markers may be present in the blood of ovarian cancer patients. CA-125 is a protein that is often found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. Ovarian germ cell tumors can cause high levels of chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and/or lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). Stromal tumors can increase levels of estrogen and testosterone, as well as a substance called inhibin.


When above-listed tests are indicative of ovarian cancer, a biopsy is typically used to make a conclusive diagnosis. A biopsy allows a physician to obtain samples of tissue and abdominal fluid so that a pathologist may study them closely under a microscope to visually confirm the presence of cancerous cells.

What to do if you receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis

If you have received a positive diagnosis of ovarian cancer, your next steps are to consult with the multispecialty treatment team at Moffitt Cancer Center. As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we are recognized for our comprehensive treatment and extensive research efforts. Our aim is always to provide our ovarian cancer patients with the highest possible quality of life.

For more information about ovarian cancer diagnosis or to schedule an appointment, contact us at 1-888-663-3488 or access our new patient registration form online. We accept patients with or without referrals.