What Are the Stages of Ovarian Cancer?

Once you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your doctor will want to determine how advanced the cancer is. This is done through a process called staging. Ovarian cancer is divided into four stages: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Your doctor will need to know several things about your cancer to stage it:

  • how large the tumor is
  • if it has spread beyond the ovaries
  • where the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries

What Is Advanced Stage Ovarian Cancer?

Stage 4 ovarian cancer is often called advanced or late-stage ovarian cancer. In stage 4, the cancer has spread beyond the reproductive system and pelvis to other organs. This can include the liver, lungs, brain, or skin.

Stage 4 cancer is divided into two substages: 4A and 4B.

  • Ovarian cancer stage 4A: In this substage, cancer cells are found in the fluids surrounding the lungs. This is called malignant pleural effusion. The cancer hasn’t spread to any other locations outside the pelvis or peritoneal cavity. The peritoneum is the membrane lining the cavity of the abdomen and covering the abdominal organs. The peritoneal cavity is the portion of the body covered by the peritoneum.
  • Ovarian cancer stage 4B: Cancer in this substage has spread to locations outside of the peritoneal cavity. These locations can include the brain, skin, lungs, or nearby lymph nodes.

What Happens First?

Finding out you have advanced ovarian cancer may come as a shock. While the diagnosis will be upsetting, it’s the first step towards treatment and remission.

Your doctor will want to discuss several things with you after you’ve been diagnosed. These topics include:

  • Coping with symptoms. Ovarian cancer doesn’t normally cause noticeable symptoms until after the cancer has spread. Your doctor will suggest ways you can reduce the symptoms you’re experiencing until your cancer is treated.
  • Treatment. The sooner you begin treatment, the more successful it’s likely to be. The type of treatment you receive depends largely on the type of cancer you have and what other portions of your body are affected.
  • Coping with side effects. Each type of treatment comes with its own unique set of side effects. Talk with your doctor about the potential side effects and complications from treatment. The two of you should devise a plan for treating and reducing side effects.
  • Lifestyle changes. Changing what you eat and how often you exercise won’t cure your cancer. But certain lifestyle changes can help with side effects. Adopting a healthier lifestyle may also reduce some risk factors that could complicate treatment.
  • Emotional health. Cancer can be scary, and advanced cancer can be terrifying. The ups and downs of diagnosis and treatment can take a big toll on your physical and emotional health. It’s important you and your doctor discuss ways you can cope with both.

How Is Advanced Stage Ovarian Cancer Treated?

Once your doctor knows the type of ovarian cancer you have and its stage, it’s time to decide your treatment method. The primary treatments for ovarian cancer are:

  • Surgery is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer. But it’s not a treatment everyone will need or want. Removing the tumor, which can also mean removing a portion of your ovary, may help slow or stop the cancer’s progression. In some cases, the entire ovary or both ovaries may need to be removed. Some women may decide to remove both ovaries as well as their uterus and fallopian tubes.
  • Chemotherapy is a type of drug treatment designed for cancer. The medicine enters your bloodstream and then finds and destroys cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is often very effective, but it can also damage the body’s healthy cells.
  • Hormone therapy is designed to reduce hormone production or block it altogether. Some hormones help certain tumors grow and spread. With reduced hormone levels, the cancer may not grow or spread as quickly.
  • Radiation therapy is a type of treatment that uses X-rays and high-energy particles to destroy cancer cells. It’s most often used to treat ovarian cancer that has spread or metastized beyond the ovaries.
  • Targeted therapy is a newer type of treatment that aims to reduce the damage done to healthy cells while still targeting and destroying the cancerous cells. Targeted therapy drugs are different from chemotherapy because they specifically seek out cancerous cells and try to destroy the cell’s wiring. By interfering with the cell’s ability to function, targeted therapy drugs can slow down the progression of cancer.

What Is the Prognosis for Advanced Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect and diagnose until it has developed into advanced ovarian cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with stage 4 cancer is 17 percent. Early-stage ovarian cancer has a better prognosis than advanced ovarian cancer. Being proactive and well-informed are some of the most important factors in your healthcare journey.