Ovarian cancer is a disease in which cells in the ovaries grow out of control and form tumors. Type, subtype, stage, and grade are just a few ways to classify ovarian cancer.
Type and subtype refer to where the first tumor is formed. Knowing this can help health care professionals identify specific characteristics that define the cancer. The 3 types of ovarian cancer are epithelial, germ, and stromal.
Epithelial ovarian carcinoma originates in the tissue that surrounds the ovaries. This is the most common type of ovarian cancer, accounting for almost 90% of diagnoses.
Subtypes: Serous, Mucinous, Endometrioid, Clear Cell
Germ cell tumors start from the cells that produce the eggs. Most of these tumors are benign, but a small number are cancerous.
Subtypes: Dysgerminoma, Endodermal Sinus (Yolk Sac), Choriocarcinoma, Teratoma
Stromal cell tumors are rare. These types of tumors produce female hormones that can cause vaginal bleeding. Stromal tumors are often found at an early stage, with more than 75% of women surviving long term.
Subtypes: Granulosa Cell, Granulosa-Theca, Thecoma, Fibroma, Sertoli-Leydig Cell
The stage of the cancer refers to how far it has spread from the ovary to other parts of the body. Ovarian cancer is divided into 4 stages. Staging is an important part of the process because accurate staging can help determine treatment.
The cancer is limited to 1 or both ovaries.
The cancer has spread outside the ovaries and is growing in the pelvis.
The cancer has spread outside the pelvis and may appear in the lymph nodes of the back of the abdomen.
The cancer has spread to more distant organs, such as the liver and lungs. It is important to know that if the cancer appears on the surface of the liver only, and not inside the liver, it is still considered stage III.
Grade is a way to describe the look of cancer cells when compared with healthy cells.
Cells look healthy and tend to have a better outlook.
Cells look and act somewhere in between grade 1 and grade 3.
Cells look less healthy and usually have a worse outlook.
All women have some risk of developing ovarian cancer during their lifetime. This year alone, more than 22,000 women will learn that they have ovarian cancer. Certain women may have high-risk factors, such as inherited mutations or a family history of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose. Screening tests, such as ultrasounds and computed tomography (CT) scans, show masses around the pelvis, which can suggest ovarian cancer. Removing part of the tumor for testing is the only way to officially diagnose ovarian cancer.
Finding ovarian cancer before it spreads is critical—when found early, about 94% of women live longer than 5 years after diagnosis. While there are currently no effective screening tests for ovarian cancer, there are scientific studies in progress to help determine ways to detect ovarian cancer.
When ovarian cancer causes symptoms, they tend to be symptoms that are more commonly caused by other things, so early detection may be difficult.
Signs and symptoms can include:
Abdominal bloating or swelling
Pelvic pain or discomfort
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
A frequent need to urinate
Increased abdominal girth
Persistent indigestion, bloating, or nausea
Trouble eating or feeling full quickly