Types & Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Types of Ovarian Cancer

There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer which are classified according to the type of cell from which they start. Cancerous ovarian tumors can start from three common cell types:

  • Surface Epithelium - cells covering the lining of the ovaries
  • Germ Cells - cells that are destined to form eggs
  • Stromal Cells - Cells that release hormones and connect the different structures of the ovaries

Common Epithelial Tumors - Epithelial ovarian tumors develop from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. Most epithelial ovarian tumors are benign (noncancerous). There are several types of benign epithelial tumors, including serous adenomas, mucinous adenomas, and Brenner tumors. Cancerous epithelial tumors are carcinomas - meaning they begin in the tissue that lines the ovaries. These are the most common and most dangerous of all types of ovarian cancers. Unfortunately, almost 70 percent of women with the common epithelial ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced in stage.

There are some ovarian epithelial tumors whose appearance under the microscope does not clearly identify them as cancerous. These are called borderline tumors or tumors of low malignant potential (LMP tumors).

Epithelial ovarian carcinomas (EOCs) account for 85 to 90 percent of all cancers of the ovaries. We must continue research and expand our knowledge about this group of cancers in order to improve treatment and save lives.

Germ Cell Tumors - Ovarian germ cell tumors develop from the cells that produce the ova or eggs. Most germ cell tumors are benign (non-cancerous), although some are cancerous and may be life threatening. The most common germ cell malignancies are maturing teratomas, dysgerminomas, and endodermal sinus tumors. Germ cell malignancies occur most often in teenagers and women in their twenties. Today, 90 percent of patients with ovarian germ cell malignancies can be cured and their fertility preserved.

Stromal Tumors - Ovarian stromal tumors are a rare class of tumors that develop from connective tissue cells that hold the ovary together and those that produce the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. The most common types are granulosa-theca tumors and Sertoli-Leydig cell tumors. These tumors are quite rare and are usually considered low-grade cancers, with approximately 70 percent presenting as Stage I disease (cancer is limited to one or both ovaries).

Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma

The removal of one's ovaries eliminates the risk for ovarian cancer, but not the risk for a less common cancer called Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma. Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma is closely rated to epithelial ovarian cancer (most common type). It develops in cells from the peritoneum (abdominal lining) and looks the same under a microscope. It is similar in symptoms, spread and treatment.

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Once diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the stage of a tumor can be determined during surgery, when the doctor can tell if the cancer has spread outside the ovaries. There are four stages of ovarian cancer - Stage I (early disease) to Stage IV (advanced disease). Your treatment plan and prognosis (the probable course and outcome of your disease) will be determined by the stage of cancer you have.

Following is a description of the various stages of ovarian cancer:

Stage I - Growth of the cancer is limited to the ovary or ovaries.

Stage IA - Growth is limited to one ovary and the tumor is confined to the inside of the ovary. There is no cancer on the outer surface of the ovary. There are no ascites present containing malignant cells. The capsule is intact.

Stage IB - Growth is limited to both ovaries without any tumor on their outer surfaces. There are no ascites present containing malignant cells. The capsule is intact.

Stage IC - The tumor is classified as either Stage IA or IB and one or more of the following are present: (1) tumor is present on the outer surface of one or both ovaries; (2) the capsule has ruptured; and (3) there are ascites containing malignant cells or with positive peritoneal washings.

Stage II - Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension.

Stage IIA - The cancer has extended to and/or involves the uterus or the fallopian tubes, or both.

Stage IIB - The cancer has extended to other pelvic organs.

Stage IIC - The tumor is classified as either Stage IIA or IIB and one or more of the following are present: (1) tumor is present on the outer surface of one or both ovaries; (2) the capsule has ruptured; and (3) there are ascites containing malignant cells or with positive peritoneal washings.

Stage III - Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries, and one or both of the following are present: (1) the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the lining of the abdomen; and (2) the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. The tumor is limited to the true pelvis but with histologically proven malignant extension to the small bowel or omentum.

Stage IIIA - During the staging operation, the practitioner can see cancer involving one or both of the ovaries, but no cancer is grossly visible in the abdomen and it has not spread to lymph nodes. However, when biopsies are checked under a microscope, very small deposits of cancer are found in the abdominal peritoneal surfaces.

Stage IIIB - The tumor is in one or both ovaries, and deposits of cancer are present in the abdomen that are large enough for the surgeon to see but not exceeding 2 cm in diameter. The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IIIC - The tumor is in one or both ovaries, and one or both of the following is present: (1) the cancer has spread to lymph nodes; and/or (2) the deposits of cancer exceed 2 cm in diameter and are found in the abdomen.

Stage IV - This is the most advanced stage of ovarian cancer. Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries and distant metastases (spread of the cancer to organs located outside of the peritoneal cavity) have occurred. Finding ovarian cancer cells in pleural fluid (from the cavity which surrounds the lungs) is also evidence of stage IV disease.

These statistics, and the information regarding tumor stage and grade, demonstrate that there is a critical need to establish an agenda for more research into the areas of basic and translational research, genetic susceptibility and prevention, diagnostic imaging, screening and diagnosis, and therapy. These could hold the most promise for future discoveries that will lead to improved prevention, detection, and treatment of ovarian cancer, particularly the common epithelial cancers.

For more information on ovarian cancer grading and staging, visit CancerSource, the National Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Hospital, or the Oncology Channel.

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