What are the stages of ovarian cancer?

After your doctor diagnoses you with ovarian cancer, they 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, including:

  • the size of the tumor
  • whether it has spread beyond the ovaries
  • where the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries

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. These can include the:

  • liver
  • lungs
  • brain
  • 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 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 areas outside of the peritoneal cavity, such as:

  • brain
  • skin
  • lungs
  • nearby lymph nodes

Getting a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer is the first step toward treatment and remission.

Your doctor will want to discuss several things with you after your diagnosis. 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 your symptoms until you receive treatment.
  • 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 a 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. The ups and downs you experience after your diagnosis and during treatment can affect your physical and emotional health. It’s important you and your doctor discuss ways you can cope with both.

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

  • Surgery is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer, but it’s not a treatment everyone needs. Removing the tumor can also mean removing a portion of your ovary, which may help slow or stop the cancer’s progression. In some cases, the entire ovary or both ovaries are removed. Some women may decide to remove both ovaries and their uterus and fallopian tubes.
  • Chemotherapy is a type of drug treatment designed for cancer. The medication 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 or block hormone production. 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 metastasized beyond the ovaries.
  • Targeted therapy is a newer treatment that aims to reduce the damage done to healthy cells while it targets and destroys the cancerous cells. Targeted therapy drugs are different from chemotherapy because they seek out cancerous cells and destroy them. By destroying the targeted cells, this type of therapy can slow cancer progression.

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect and diagnose until it develops 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.

Women diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer have a better outlook than those with advanced ovarian cancer. Being proactive and well-informed are the most important factors in your healthcare journey.