Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors
"Is an ovarian cancer evaluation similar to a pap smear?"
Don't PAP smears test for ovarian cancer?
A Pap smear tests for cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, which can be seen at the top of the vagina. The Pap smear looks at cells from the cervix and determines if they are normal, pre-cancerous, or cancerous. If they are pre-cancerous, then your primary care doctor will refer you to a gynecologist who can perform further testing to see the degree of pre-cancerous change, and who can perform a procedure to remove those cells if necessary. When a Pap test is performed, your doctor may also perform a "bimanual exam," or an exam of the vagina and and ovaries using gloved hands. This exam looks for increased size of the ovaries, but it is not a particularly sensitive or specific test and therefore it not very useful. Currently, there is no recommendation to screen women on an annual basis for ovarian cancer. Unlike for cervical cancer, there is no way to sample the cells from the ovaries to see if they are pre-cancerous. There is a bloodstream marker that is often elevated in ovarian cancer, but it is also not specific to ovarian cancer. Therefore, even if your blood test were elevated, it does not mean that you have ovarian cancer. Your primary care doctor or gynecologist can refer you for a pelvic ultrasounds if they think you may have ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer, then you should discuss your risk for ovarian cancer with your gynecologist or primary care doctor.
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