Ovarian Cancer Stages: What They Are and Why They Matter

The stage of ovarian cancer can determine the course of treatment

Patient undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Credit: Will & Deni Mcintyre / Getty Images

Ovarian carcinoma is a malignant tumor that most often originates in the epithelial cells of the ovaries. Ninety percent of women affected are over 40, and those who have early menopause, a family history of ovarian cancer are at increased risk. Women who have given birth or have used oral contraceptives are at reduced risk. 

In early stages, ovarian cancer has few symptoms. In later stages, bloating, abdominal swelling and weight loss can occur.

Treatment may include oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) and chemotherapy.

There are four stages of ovarian cancer. Each stage identifies the size and location of the tumor. The more advanced the stage of ovarian cancer, the more difficult it is to treat.

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is classified into stages by a system called FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) and uses a roman numeral system to identify the stage, as well as letters to differentiate sub-stages.

Generally, a prognosis (chance of recovery) is more dependent on the main Stage, but the sub-stages can also be important in choosing the best treatment options for you. 

The four stages of ovarian cancer are:

Stage I. This is the earliest form of ovarian cancer. Cancer is found in one or both ovaries. Stage I ovarian cancer is further divided into three stages:

  • Stage IA: Cancer is present in one ovary. Also the outer ovarian capsule is not ruptured and there is no tumor on the external surface of the ovary.
  • Stage IB: Cancer is present in both ovaries but the outer capsule is intact and there is no tumor on external surface.
  • Stage IC: Cancer is present in one or both ovaries and cancer is found on the outside surface of one or both ovaries, or the outer covering of the tumor has ruptured, or cancer cells are found in the fluid or tissue linings of the abdomen.

    Stage II. In stage II ovarian cancer, cancer is present in one or both ovaries, and has spread to other parts of the pelvic region. There are also three stages in stage II ovarian cancer:

    • Stage IIA:Cancer has spread to the uterus and/or fallopian tubes.
    • Stage IIB: Cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to other organs in the pelvic region such as the bladder, rectum, or sigmoid colon.
    • Stage IIC: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to the uterus, fallopian tubes, bladder, sigmoid colon, or rectum. Cancer may also be present is tissue and fluid samples of the lining of the abdominal cavity.

    Stage III. In stage III ovarian cancer, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to the abdomen. Stage III ovarian cancer is also divided into three different stages:

    • Stage IIIA: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to a small part of the abdomen.
    • Satge IIIB: Cancer is present in one both ovaries and has spread to the peritoneum in an amount less than 2 centimeters. The peritoneum is the lining of the abdominal cavity.
    • Stage IIIC: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries, and has spread to the pertinoneum more than 2 centimeters and/or has spread to the lymph nodes.

    Stage IV. Stage IV ovarian cancer is the most advanced stage of the disease. In this stage, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to parts of the body beyond the abdomen, such as the lungs, inside the liver, brain, or the lymph nodes in the neck.

    Certain Factors Affect Prognosis and Treatment Options

    Your prognosis and treatment options are not only dependent on just the stage of your cancer, instead it is a combination of all of the following:

    • The type of tumor
    • The size of the tumor
    • Whether all or part of the tumor can be surgically removed
    • Whether there is swelling of the abdomen
    • Age and general health
    • The stage of cancer
    • Whether it is a new cancer or a recurrent one

    Be sure to discuss all of these factors with your doctor and ask questions about the types of treatment options available to you. Knowing what stage cancer you have and how it relates to your risk factors can greatly change the course of treatment that you choose to undergo.

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