How Is Ovarian Cancer Staged?


Stages of Ovarian Cancer – Stage III and Stage IV

Stage III

The cancer may have spread to nearby organs in the pelvic region and nearby lymph nodes.

Stage IIIA (T3a2, N0 or N1, M0): cancer is not visible in the abdomen during surgery, but is visible on a slide under a microscope.

Stage IIIB (T3b, N0 or N1, M0): cancer has spread to the abdomen and is visible to the surgeon. The lesions are 2cm or less when in the abdomen.

Stage IIIC (T3c, N0 or N1, M0): cancer has spread to the abdomen and is visible to the surgeon. The lesions are 2cm or larger.

Survival rates for this stage are:

  • III: 39 percent
  • IIIA: 59 percent
  • IIIB: 52 percent
  • IIIC: 39 percent

Stage IV

The cancer has spread to organs outside of the peritoneal cavity.

Stage IVA: cancer has spread to the fluid around the lungs, called a malignant pleural effusion. The cancer has otherwise not spread from the pelvis.

Stage IVB: cancer has spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs, the brain, and the skin.

The survival rate for stage IV ovarian cancer, in general, is about 17 percent.

A Word About Survival Rates

For all types of ovarian cancer, the survival rate is 45 percent. However, if cancer is found before it has spread from the pelvic region, that rate increases dramatically, to 92 percent.

Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed at an early stage — only 15 percent of ovarian cancers are diagnosed early.

Survival rates are five-year survival rates. These rates are calculated based on patients who live at least five years past their diagnosis. The survival rate allows for the fact that after five years, often people will die from other causes.

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It is worthwhile noting that many people who are not expected to live past five years often do. The survival rates are an estimate, but do not predict individual trajectories of disease.

Other factors come into play, such as health before diagnosis, the type of treatment for ovarian cancer and how well the cancer responds to treatment.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

As previously mentioned, ovarian cancer, although very treatable if caught in its early stages, is rarely detected in its early stages. By the time it is generally diagnosed, it has typically spread beyond the ovaries and into other areas, making it more difficult to treat.

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Urinary urgency and frequency
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain coupled with pelvic pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly

If these symptoms are experienced daily for two weeks, an immediate visit to your gynecologist is warranted.

The above symptoms can also be experienced in conjunction with these symptoms:

  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Unexplained bowel habits
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Weight gain or weight loss

Screening for Ovarian Cancer

Because ovarian cancer is so often detected in its later stages, researchers are searching for an early diagnostic tool that can detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage. Several ways may prove reliable for women who are at increased risk:

  • Pelvic exam: this tool is recommended for women for women ages 18 and up annually, and that women ages 35 and up have a rectovaginal exam annually. This exam may not detect ovarian cancer in its early stages, but it can prove helpful in establishing a baseline.
  • Transvaginal sonography: an ultrasound that is useful in high-risk populations and women with abnormal pelvic exams, an ultrasound instrument is placed into the vagina. It is more accurate than other tools but has limited abilities at early detection.
  • CA125 test: this blood test measures levels of CA-125, a blood-borne protein that is produced by ovarian cancer cells. Some other non-cancerous conditions also produce it, so it can yield false positive results in detecting early ovarian cancer.

If your physician sees anything concerning during a pelvic exam or a transvaginal ultrasound, or you have a positive CA-125 blood test, he or she may order further diagnostic testing, such as an x-ray, a CT scan, or a biopsy to confirm the results.

Statistics

The American Cancer Society estimates that in the year 2017, 22,440 women will receive a new ovarian cancer diagnosis. 14,080 will die from ovarian cancer.

It is the fifth in cancer deaths among women and causes the most deaths than any cancer of the reproductive system.

A woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer are 1 in 75, and her lifetime risk of dying from ovarian cancer is 1 in 100. Although those numbers are a bit shocking, the rate at which women are being diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been decreasing over the past 20 years.

The Bottom Line…

Early detection of ovarian cancer is important. It is often difficult to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages, which is why knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer – and seeking treatment as soon as possible – is vital.

Cancer staging is a useful tool for treating your cancer – it gives your treatment team vital information, but it is worthwhile noting that you shouldn’t look too much into the staging. Every person is different, and your survival rate depends on many various factors.

Resources

American Cancer Society (How is Ovarian Cancer Staged?)

American Cancer Society (Survival Rates for Ovarian Cancer, by Stage)

Ovations (Ovarian Cancer – What You Need to Know)

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by Lana Barhum on March 1, 2017
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