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Understanding BRCA & HBOC > Risk Management > Ovarian Cancer Screening

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Ovarian Cancer Screening

Learn about the steps that people at high risk for cancer can take to manage their risk and protect their health.


Close surveillance or screening for cancer uses tests on a routine basis to identify cancer early on, at its most treatable stage. Surveillance doesn’t prevent cancer; however, catching cancer early improves a person’s odds of survival.

Ovarian cancer is particularly difficult to detect. Hidden deep in the abdominal cavity, ovaries are difficult to view or feel; abnormalities are not always found early. Even with the most rigorous surveillance, ovarian cancer is often detected only in its advanced stage. Even when detected early, the disease often requires aggressive treatment such as chemotherapy.

Surveillance recommendations for screening high-risk women for ovarian cancer differ from recommendations for the general population. In women with BRCA mutations or other hereditary risk factors, ovarian cancer tends to occur at a younger age and the lifetime risk is higher than in the general population. Therefore, screening tests that might not be appropriate for women of average risk for cancer may be recommended for those in the high-risk category. As further research is completed on surveillance for ovarian cancer in high-risk women, screening recommendations will probably change. For these reasons, it is important to consult with health care experts who are familiar with the standards of care and risk management in high-risk women.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) is a consortium of cancer centers with experts in management of hereditary cancer. Each year, the NCCN updates their risk management guidelines for people with hereditary risk for cancer, based on the latest research. Current NCCN guidelines, which dictate the standard of care for cancer surveillance in high-risk patients, include:

  • Concurrent transvaginal ultrasound with color doppler
  • CA-125
  • pelvic exam

every 6 months starting at age 30-35  or 5-10 yrs earlier than the earliest age of first diagnosis in the family, and preferably day 1-10 of the menstrual cycle for premenopausal women.

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