Ovarian cancer arises when ovary cells mutate. This causes them to grow abnormally. The process can trigger a number of different bodily responses, including changes in white blood cells.

White blood cell levels are typically higher in people with certain cancers. However, white blood cell counts are not an effective diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer. Blood tests are not generally reliable for this purpose. A biopsy is necessary for an accurate ovarian cancer diagnosis.

This article will explain what white blood cells are and how they relate to ovarian cancer, and will outline what to expect from a white blood cell count, including possible risks. It will also list other relevant blood tests and more accurate diagnostic tools for ovarian cancer.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Millions of cells make up human bodies. Different cell types play different roles.

White blood cells are an essential component of the immune system. They float around the blood in order to reach the body parts that need them.

White blood cells have a few different functions. One of these is to seek out and destroy pathogens, which might include viruses, bacteria, or fungi. White blood cells are also helpful in their ability to respond to injury. Finally, some white blood cells can also respond to cancer cells.

Ovarian cancer is any form of cancer that begins in a person’s ovaries. It is a serious condition, and is the fifth leading cause of death in females.

Ovarian cancer occurs when ovarian cells grow abnormally. Certain people are at an elevated risk of developing this type of cancer, including people who:

  • smoke
  • have a history of breast cancer
  • have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer

By determining a person’s platelet, red blood cell, and white blood cell levels, doctors can better understand the person’s overall health. For instance, someone with a lower white blood cell count may be at a greater risk of infection.

For people with ovarian cancer, some infections can be more serious than they otherwise would be. This is because cancer weakens the immune system, making it harder for a person’s body to fight infections.

White blood cell levels may be higher in people with certain cancers, such as leukemia. However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) does not list a white blood cell count as a diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer.

From the perspective of the person having the test, white blood cell counts are no different from any other blood test. A healthcare professional will conduct the test, typically following these steps:

  1. The person having the test sits down.
  2. The healthcare professional chooses a vein from which to take blood. This will likely be in the person’s arm or hand.
  3. The healthcare professional applies a tourniquet to the person’s upper arm. This helps to make the chosen vein more visible.
  4. The healthcare professional uses a needle to extract blood from the vein.
  5. The healthcare professional removes the tourniquet and applies pressure where the needle entered the vein, typically with cotton wool or gauze.
  6. The healthcare professional sends the blood sample to a laboratory for testing.
  7. The person’s doctor informs them of their results. If needed, the doctor will discuss next steps with the person.

There are a few possible risks when it comes to blood tests. However, these are not typically serious. Some common side effects of white blood cell counts arise around the needle entry site. They include the following:

  • bruising
  • bleeding
  • swelling

Some people may become faint or dizzy during a blood test. If this happens, it is important for the person to inform the healthcare professional performing the test.

Blood counts can help doctors assess a person’s overall health. They may also indicate that a person’s ovarian cancer has spread to other areas of their body.

Other tests that can help determine a person’s overall health status and aid in cancer diagnoses include the following:

Urea and electrolyte tests

These tests allow doctors to determine whether a person’s kidneys are working correctly. They check for waste chemicals such as urea and creatine, as well as electrolytes. These electrolytes might include sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, and chloride.

Abnormal levels of waste chemicals or electrolytes may indicate:

Liver function tests

These tests can detect problems with liver function. They measure different enzymes and proteins that the liver either creates or clears. These include:

CA-125 tests

CA-125 is a tumor marker, which is a protein that the body creates in response to cancer cells. Many people with ovarian cancer will have a higher CA-125 level than is typical.

However, several other conditions can also cause spikes in CA-125 levels, including endometriosis and pregnancy. For this reason, this test is not a reliable diagnostic tool.

Doctors may perform this test to monitor treatment progress for ovarian cancer and to check whether cancer has returned after treatment.

The ACS provides some useful information about the many diagnostic tools that are relevant to ovarian cancer.

For example, doctors can use different imaging techniques to detect abnormal masses around the pelvis. These might include:

Although these scans cannot differentiate between tumors and other abnormal masses, they are still helpful in the early stages of diagnosis. Doctors can also use them to monitor the growth or spread of tumors throughout the body.

The only way for doctors to be certain that a pelvic mass is ovarian cancer is by performing a biopsy. This involves removing a sample of the mass and testing it in a laboratory.

Commonly, surgeons will remove an entire tumor for testing. However, doctors might also choose to use a very fine needle to collect a smaller sample.

Ovarian cancer is a serious form of cancer in females.

Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer increases the chance of a positive outlook. However, while white blood cell counts can help doctors assess a person’s general health, they cannot diagnose ovarian cancer alone.