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Transvaginal ultrasound is effective in the detection of ovarian cancer and should be a routine test as part of annual examinations for women, report the Society of Gynecological Oncologist researchers. Every woman 50 years or older or age 30 with a family history of ovarian cancer is at a higher risk of getting ovarian cancer. The earlier ovarian cancer is detected, the higher the cure rate. Unfortunately, most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage, meaning the cancer has spread from the ovaries to other parts of the body, and is often incurable.

Cancer of the ovary, or ovarian cancer, is a common malignancy occurring in women in the United States with about 25,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The ovaries are small female reproductive organs that reside in the pelvis. The ovary makes female hormones and stores all of the egg cells which are released once a month during ovulation. There are two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus, or womb. The most frequent cancerous ovarian tumors originate from the cells in the lining, or epithelium of the ovary and are collectively referred to as epithelial cancers of the ovaries. Cancers may also originate from germ cells in the ovary (cells that are destined to form eggs), or sex cord stromal cells (cells that secrete hormones and connect the different structures of the ovaries). Because ovarian cancers begin deep in the pelvis, they often do not cause any symptoms until they are at an advanced stage. At the time of initial diagnosis, the majority of women have advanced cancer. Currently, very few women with advanced ovarian cancer are cured. In order to improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer the disease has to be diagnosed early, before it spreads.

Two groups of researchers have reported that transvaginal ultrasound is an effective and rapid screening technique for detecting ovarian cancer. Transvaginal ultrasound works by transmitting sound waves that bounce off structures in the body to a receiver. A picture of the internal structures is created which the physician can visualize to detect any abnormalities. Because cancerous tumors are a different density than normal tissue in the body, the sound waves create a different pattern when they bounce off the tumor and can be detected on the picture created. When the receiver of sound waves is placed in the vagina (transvaginal), small cancers of the ovary can be detected. In addition to effective screening, this test is painless and only adds one to 5 minutes to the usual pelvic examination.

Two separate studies involving almost two hundred thousand healthy women evaluated the use of transvaginal sonography as a part of annual examinations. In both studies, transvaginal sonography detected stage I and II ovarian cancer in many women, dramatically increasing chances for a cure. These early stage cancers probably would not have been detected by a normal pelvic examination. Advanced stage ovarian cancers were also detected through this technique. (31st annual meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, February, 2000).

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It appears from these two studies that transvaginal sonography should be a part of the annual examination for all women over the age of 50 and those at high risk for developing ovarian cancer, in order to detect the cancer in a curable stage. Women that are over 50 or at high risk for ovarian cancer should talk with their doctor about including transvaginal ultrasound as part of their annual examination. (Cancer, Vol 89, No3, pp 582-587, 2000)

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