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The Outlook for Ovarian Cancer: Prognosis, Life Expectancy and Survival Rates by Stage

Individual outlook

If you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you’re probably wondering about your prognosis. While knowing your prognosis can be helpful, it’s only a general guideline. Your individual outlook will depend on many factors, such as your age and overall health.

How ovarian cancer is staged and what it means

One of the first things you’ll want to know is the stage of your ovarian cancer. Staging is a way of describing how far the cancer has spread and can indicate how aggressive your cancer is. Knowing the stage helps doctors formulate a treatment plan and gives you some idea of what to expect.

Ovarian cancer is primarily staged using the FIGO staging system, which uses the size of the tumor or (T), the presence or absence of lymph node involvement (N) and the presence or absence of distant metastasis (M). FIGO staging relies on surgery to accurately determine the size of the primary tumor. Accurate staging is important in helping you and your doctor understand the chances that your cancer treatment will be curative. These are the four stages for ovarian cancer:

Stage 1

In stage 1, the cancer has not spread beyond the ovaries. Stage 1A means the cancer is only in one ovary. In stage 1B, the cancer is in both ovaries. Stage 1C means that one or both ovaries contain cancer cells and one of the following are also found: the outer capsule broke during surgery, the capsule burst prior to surgery, there are cancer cells on the outside of an ovary, or cancer cells are found in fluid washings from the abdomen.

Stage 2

In stage 2 ovarian cancer, the cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to elsewhere within the pelvis. Stage 2A means it has gone from the ovaries to the fallopian tubes, the uterus, or to both. Stage 2B indicates the cancer has migrated to nearby organs like the bladder, sigmoid colon, or rectum.

Stage 3

In stage 3 ovarian cancer, the cancer is found in one or both ovaries, as well as in the lining of the abdomen, or it has spread to lymph nodes in the abdomen. In Stage 3A, the cancer is found in other pelvic organs and in lymph nodes within the abdominal cavity (retroperitoneal lymph nodes) or in the abdominal lining. Stage 3B is when the cancer has spread to nearby organs within the pelvis. Cancer cells may be found on the outside of the spleen or liver or in the lymph nodes. Stage 3C means that larger deposits of cancer cells are found outside the spleen or liver, or that it has spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of ovarian cancer. It means the cancer has spread to distant areas or organs in your body. In stage 4A, cancer cells are present in the fluid around the lungs. Stage 4B means that it has reached the inside of the spleen or liver, distant lymph nodes, or other distant organs such as the skin, lungs, or brain.

Outlook by stage

Your prognosis depends on both the stage and the type of ovarian cancer you have, of which there are three:

  • epithelial: these tumors develop in the layer of tissue on the outside of the ovaries
  • stromal: these tumors grow in hormone-producing cells
  • germ cell: these tumors develop in egg-producing cells

According to the Mayo Clinic, about 90 percent of ovarian cancers involve epithelial tumors. Stromal tumors represent about 7 percent of ovarian tumors, while germ cell tumors are significantly rarer.

The five-year relative survival rate for these three types of tumors is 44 percent, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Early detection generally results in a better outlook. When diagnosed and treated in stage 1, the five-year relative survival rate is 92 percent. Only about 15 percent of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in stage 1.

Below is the relative five-year survival rate for epithelial ovarian cancer:

StageSurvival Rate
190%
1A94%
1B92%
1C85%
270%
2A78%
2B73%
339%
3A59%
3B52%
3C39%
417%
 

Below is the relative five-year survival rate for ovarian stromal tumors:

StageSurvival Rate
195%
278%
365%
435%
 

Below is the relative five-year survival rate for ovarian germ cell tumors:

StageSurvival Rate
198%
294%
387%
469%
 

A woman’s lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is about 1.3 percent.

In 2016, an estimated 22,280 women in the United States alone will have received a diagnosis for ovarian cancer, and the disease will have caused 14,240 deaths. This represents about 2.4 percent of all cancer deaths.

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