Find out when you might need an ultrasound, the difference between an abdominal ultrasound and a pelvic/transvaginal ultrasound, what an ultrasound involves and what the results can tell you.
Find the answers to the frequently asked questions surrounding the use of ultrasounds in testing for ovarian cancer. If you have a question that isn't covered here, please feel free to call our support line on 020 7923 5475 or speak to your GP.
When will I need a scan of my ovaries?
If you have any symptoms associated with ovarian cancer (including persistent bloating, feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite, pelvic or abdominal pain or needing to wee more often or more urgently than usual) your GP might recommend that you have an ultrasound scan so that your ovaries can be checked for any unusual changes. Ultrasound scans are sometimes ordered alongside or after a CA125 blood test.
If you're concerned that you may have symptoms of ovarian cancer, ask your GP about having a CA125 blood test and ultrasound scan.
What is an ultrasound scan?
An ultrasound scan creates a picture of the tissues and organs inside your body. A hand-held device called a transducer (sometimes referred to as a pad or paddle) uses sound waves to create the image, which will appear on a TV screen. Ultrasound scans are usually carried out by a sonographer or a radiologist, and will often take place in the radiology department of your local hospital.
Your appointment letter will contain information about any preparations you need to make before your appointment so it's important to read the information carefully. For example, you might need to have a full bladder for an abdominal ultrasound.
There are two different types of ultrasound scan:
This scan is used to examine the organs in your tummy and pelvis. You'll be asked to lie down on an examination couch and to lift your clothes to uncover your abdomen (tummy). The sonographer will put a clear gel on your skin then move the transducer slowly but firmly across the skin of your tummy. The gel helps the transducer to move smoothly and for a clear picture to appear on the screen. You should not feel any pain during the abdominal ultrasound, but you may feel some discomfort if you have a full bladder.
This scan is used to create a clearer picture of your reproductive organs including your uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix. You'll be asked to undress from the waist down and to lie down on an examination couch with your knees bent. The sonographer will insert a small probe into your vagina. The probe will be placed in a protective cover and lubricated well with a warmed jelly before insertion. The sonographer will press down on your tummy and gently move the probe to get a good picture of your pelvic organs. You may feel some discomfort during the pelvic ultrasound, but it should not be painful.
Ultrasound scans are very safe and you'll be able to go home once your scans are complete. You can eat and drink immediately and resume sexual activity as soon as you feel ready.
Watch Gill talking about her experience of having an ultrasound scan to find out more:
Why might I need both an abdominal and pelvic ultrasound?
The ovaries are very small, about the size of large olives, and they are buried deep within your pelvis surrounded by other organs. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the ovaries on an abdominal ultrasound, and a pelvic ultrasound increases the chance of getting a clear picture that can be examined for unusual changes.
I'm on my period. Can I still have a pelvic ultrasound scan?
Yes. It's fine to have a pelvic ultrasound while you have your period. Just let the sonographer know before they start the scan.
When will I get my ultrasound test results?
It can take some time for the results to be ready. Your GP will let you know how long the results should take and will also tell you how to find out the results of your scans.
The examiner won't be able to give you any results on the day. The ultrasound pictures will be examined by a sonographer/radiologist. They'll send a detailed report of their findings and recommendations to your GP.
The information in the report will help your GP decide what action to take next. If you don't hear anything within two weeks, give your GP a call.
What do the results mean?
The sonographer/radiologist will be looking for unusual changes to your ovaries including a change in texture, difference in size or visible lumps. Changes of this type can be caused by a number of conditions including cysts, endometriosis and sometimes by ovarian cancer.
The results of the ultrasound scans will help your GP decide what to do next. If any changes are seen which might indicate ovarian cancer, your GP will arrange for an appointment with a gynaecological oncologist for further tests and investigations to rule out or confirm ovarian cancer.
If your scan appears normal but your symptoms continue or worsen then you must go back to your GP to let them know, and make an appointment for a check-up within one month.
This information is reviewed regularly and is in line with accepted national and international guidelines. All of our publications undergo an expert peer review and are reviewed by women with ovarian cancer to ensure that we provide accurate and high-quality information. To find out more take a look at our information standards.
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