Ovarian Cancer Testing

This resource was originally published by Lab Tests Online here.


Currently, there is no specific screening test for ovarian cancer. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reaffirmed a 2008 recommendation against screening women for ovarian cancer. This recommendation applies to asymptomatic women but not to women at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer, such as those with a genetic mutation (e.g., BRCA mutation).

The need for a reliable method for early detection of ovarian cancer among asymptomatic women continues to drive ongoing research. Molecular (gene) tests and multimarker approaches are being explored to improve early detection of ovarian cancers. For example, the OVA-1 blood test, which measures levels of five proteins, is used to categorize tumors in ovarian cancer patients as low or high risk. In the meantime, regular physicals, pelvic exams, and an awareness of family history and symptoms are important.

Laboratory Tests

  • CA-125 (Cancer antigen 125) – this is the main laboratory test used to detect and monitor this condition in symptomatic women, even though this tumor marker is not recommended for screening.
  • HE4 (Human epididymis protein 4) – a relatively new tumor marker that shows promise is; it is used to monitor epithelial ovarian cancer in treated patients.
  • BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 – genetic tests that can determine if a woman is at high risk of developing ovarian cancer, but these tests are not used for diagnosis or monitoring.

Other tests that may be ordered to help detect and monitor different types of ovarian tumors include:

Non-laboratory Tests

Non-laboratory tests that are used to evaluate abnormalities include:

  • Ultrasound (pelvic and/or transvaginal) – uses sound waves to create a picture of the uterus and ovaries; it can help determine whether an ovarian growth is likely to be a cancer or a fluid-filled cyst.
  • CT scan (computerized tomography)
  • X-ray of the gastrointestinal tract
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

It is important to have regular checkups and to consult with a healthcare practitioner if symptoms develop. Symptoms associated with ovarian cancer are subtle and non-specific, and there are many non-cancerous conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

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