can an ultrasound detect ovarian cancer

Mariah Brown

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Mariah Brown

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Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the use of ultrasounds in detecting ovarian cancer. If you have found yourself here, you might be wondering, “Can an ultrasound detect ovarian cancer?” Well, you have come to the right place to find answers to your questions. In this article, we will dive deep into the topic of ultrasound and its role in detecting ovarian cancer. As someone who has experience in understanding the implications of ultrasounds for cancer detection, we have curated this article with ELI5 (Explain Like I’m Five) writing style to ensure that the information is easy to understand for everyone.

Before we delve into the specifics, let’s take a moment to understand what ovarian cancer is and why timely detection is crucial. Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the ovaries, the reproductive organs in women. It is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it is difficult to detect in its early stages. By the time symptoms become noticeable, the cancer has often spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more challenging.

can an ultrasound detect ovarian cancer

The Role of Ultrasound in Ovarian Cancer Detection

Ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed through a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests. Ultrasound is one of the diagnostic tools commonly used to detect ovarian cancer.

Types of Ultrasounds for Ovarian Cancer

There are two types of ultrasounds commonly used for ovarian cancer detection: external ultrasounds and internal ultrasounds.

External ultrasounds, also known as transabdominal ultrasounds, are performed on the outside of the body. During this procedure, a technician or a doctor will apply a gel to the abdomen and then use a device called a transducer to emit high-frequency sound waves. These sound waves create images of the ovaries and surrounding areas, allowing the healthcare provider to look for any abnormalities.

Internal ultrasounds, also known as transvaginal ultrasounds, involve the insertion of a probe into the vagina. This probe emits sound waves that create detailed images of the ovaries and other pelvic organs. Internal ultrasounds can provide a clearer view of the ovaries, especially in cases where external ultrasounds may not be sufficient.

Both external and internal ultrasounds are safe and non-invasive procedures that do not involve any radiation exposure.

Can an Ultrasound Detect Ovarian Cancer Early?

Ultrasounds can be beneficial in detecting ovarian cancer, but they are not foolproof and may miss early-stage tumors. The effectiveness of an ultrasound in detecting ovarian cancer early depends on various factors, including the size and location of the tumor, the expertise of the healthcare provider performing the ultrasound, and the quality of the imaging equipment used.

It is important to note that ultrasounds are not solely used for cancer detection. They are also employed to monitor existing ovarian cysts, evaluate pelvic pain, and assess overall gynecologic health. Therefore, an ultrasound alone may not be sufficient for the early detection of ovarian cancer.

Other Ovarian Cancer Tests

In addition to ultrasounds, there are other tests commonly used in the detection of ovarian cancer. These tests can provide complementary information and help establish a more accurate diagnosis. Some of the other ovarian cancer tests include:

Blood Testing:

Blood tests, such as the CA-125 test, can measure the level of a protein called CA-125 in the blood. Elevated CA-125 levels may indicate the presence of ovarian cancer, although this protein can also be elevated due to other conditions. Blood tests can be useful in combination with ultrasounds to enhance the detection accuracy.


A biopsy involves the removal and examination of a small tissue sample from the ovary (or any suspicious area) to determine if cancer cells are present. Biopsies can be performed surgically or using minimally invasive techniques, such as through a needle or during a laparoscopic procedure.

Genetic Testing:

Genetic testing can help identify certain genetic mutations, such as mutations in the BRCA genes, which are associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Genetic testing is particularly valuable for individuals with a family history of ovarian cancer or an inherited predisposition to the disease.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider or a gynecologic oncologist to determine which tests are most appropriate for individual circumstances.

Ovarian Cancer Prevention

While there is no foolproof way to prevent ovarian cancer entirely, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk:

1. Maintain a Healthy Weight:

Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Therefore, striving for a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet can contribute to lowering the risk.

2. Exercise Regularly:

Regular physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

3. Consider Oral Contraceptives:

Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills) for five or more years has been shown to decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

4. Know Your Family History:

Individuals with a family history of ovarian cancer may have an increased risk due to inherited genetic mutations. It is important to be aware of one’s family medical history and discuss it with a healthcare provider to assess the need for genetic testing or other preventive measures.

Remember, while these lifestyle factors can help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, they do not guarantee prevention. Regular check-ups, understanding the signs and symptoms, and having open communication with healthcare providers are key components of early detection and successful treatment.


Ultrasounds play a vital role in the detection of ovarian cancer, but they are not infallible. They are safe and non-invasive procedures that can provide valuable insight into an individual’s gynecologic health. However, they may not always detect early-stage ovarian tumors. Therefore, it is crucial to combine ultrasounds with other tests, such as blood testing and genetic testing, for a comprehensive evaluation.

By understanding the limitations of ultrasounds and the importance of early detection, individuals can be proactive in seeking timely medical advice. Advocating for oneself is paramount when it comes to taking charge of one’s health and ensuring the best possible outcomes. Remember, you are your own best advocate!


1. Can an ultrasound detect all types of ovarian cancer?

An ultrasound can help detect many types of ovarian cancer, but there are instances where certain types, such as borderline tumors or very early-stage cancers, may not be detectable through ultrasound alone.

2. Can a pelvic ultrasound detect ovarian cancer?

Yes, a pelvic ultrasound can detect ovarian cancer by providing detailed images of the ovaries, helping healthcare providers identify any abnormalities.

3. How accurate is an ultrasound in detecting ovarian cancer?

The accuracy of an ultrasound in detecting ovarian cancer depends on various factors, including the expertise of the healthcare provider performing the ultrasound and the quality of the imaging equipment used.

4. Are there any risks associated with ultrasounds for ovarian cancer detection?

No, ultrasounds are generally considered safe and do not involve any radiation exposure. They are non-invasive procedures that pose minimal risks to patients.

5. Can ultrasounds detect ovarian cancer in its early stages?

While ultrasounds can help detect early-stage ovarian cancer, they may not always be able to identify small tumors. Combining ultrasounds with other tests, such as blood testing, can improve early detection rates.

6. Can an ultrasound definitively diagnose ovarian cancer?

No, an ultrasound alone cannot definitively diagnose ovarian cancer. It can provide valuable information and guide further diagnostic tests like biopsies or genetic testing for a confirmed diagnosis.

7. What are the common symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary urgency or frequency. However, these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

8. Is there a screening test specifically for ovarian cancer?

Currently, there is no screening test specifically designed for the general population’s early detection of ovarian cancer. Ultrasounds and blood testing are typically used in combination for individuals at high risk or with suspected symptoms.

9. Why is early detection of ovarian cancer important?

Early detection of ovarian cancer is crucial because it increases the chances of successful treatment and better outcomes. Detecting ovarian cancer at an early stage allows for more effective treatment options and a higher likelihood of complete remission.

10. Is genetic testing necessary for everyone with suspected ovarian cancer?

Genetic testing for ovarian cancer may be recommended for individuals with a family history of the disease or suspected hereditary risks. It is best to consult with a healthcare provider or a genetic counselor to determine if genetic testing is necessary in individual cases.


We hope that this comprehensive guide has provided you with valuable insights into the use of ultrasounds in detecting ovarian cancer. Remember, ultrasounds are not infallible; they are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to ovarian cancer detection. Partnering with healthcare providers, exploring various diagnostic tests, and adopting a proactive approach to your health can significantly contribute to early detection and improved outcomes.

For more information on ovarian cancer and related topics, please explore our other articles. Knowledge is power, and by staying informed, you are taking an active role in your well-being.


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