Ovarian cancer can cause unspecific symptoms such as abdominal pain or digestive problems. Nevertheless patients can also remain without a single symptom. In some patients abdominal fluid (ascites) accumulates due to tumour development. That’s why ascites is a warning sign and should be examined without delay.
The clinical gynaecological examination as well as ultrasound or other imaging techniques (e.g. CT and MRI) can point towards a tumour but are limited in their diagnostic conclusions. Especially in tumours smaller than 1 cm, these techniques are unable to show suspicious findings. However, abnormal changes in the lesser pelvis can be evaluated much better by ultrasound through the vagina (transvaginal sonography) than by the above-mentioned imaging techniques.
Proteins, such as CA-125 and HE4, which are determined in the blood, may indicate the presence of ovarian cancer. Yet the elevation of these proteins is nonspecific and they are not necessarily increased in all ovarian cancer patients. These proteins can also be increased when other malign or even benign diseases are present in the area of the pelvis and the abdomen. This is why the term “tumour marker” is not exactly correct and these proteins should be called “biomarkers”. The role of biomarkers is currently a focus in ovarian cancer research.