Low-grade ovarian cancer is a rare type of ovarian cancer. Like most types of cancer, low-grade ovarian cancer is most treatable when it’s diagnosed early.

Low-grade ovarian cancer is unlikely to cause symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do occur, they are the same as the symptoms of other types of ovarian cancer.

This type of ovarian cancer is slow-growing, but it can be difficult to treat. It doesn’t respond to chemotherapy as well as other types of ovarian cancer. Experts are researching new treatment options to help improve the treatment of low-grade ovarian cancer.

Low-grade ovarian cancer is a rare and slow-growing form of ovarian cancer. It grows on the surfaces of the ovaries and is considered to be an invasive type of cancer.

Low-grade ovarian cancer has only been considered a distinct form of ovarian cancer since 2004. Previously, it was not separated from any other type of ovarian cancer.

Although it causes the same symptoms as standard ovarian cancer, low-grade ovarian cancer grows and responds to treatment in ways that make it a fully unique type of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer in the transgender, nonbinary community

Ovarian cancer is nearly always discussed as a woman’s health concern. This language is embedded into the way hospitals, cancer centers, support groups, information websites, and other resources talk about ovarian cancer.

However, not everyone who has ovarian cancer is a woman. This language can be harmful to transgender men, nonbinary people, intersex people, and anyone else who doesn’t identify as a woman but who develops ovarian cancer.

Considering ovarian cancer as solely a women’s health concern can increase barriers to care for members of these communities. People who are part of the transgender and intersex communities are more likely to face discrimination when accessing medical care. That risk increases when there’s a need to seek care that doesn’t match the person’s gender.

Some treatment options for ovarian cancer might also be complex for intersex people or members of the transgender community. Surgeries to remove ovaries and reproductive organs might already be planned, in progress, or even partially completed as part of gender transition. But, this is not always the case, and the removal of ovarian cancer is often a very different procedure. Intersex people might have already had surgeries and other procedures done on reproductive organs as children; this could make oncology surgeries more difficult.

Was this helpful?

Low-grade ovarian cancer generally doesn’t cause any symptoms when it first develops. When symptoms occur, they are the same as the symptoms seen in other forms of ovarian cancer.

Symptoms of low-grade ovarian grade cancer include:

How common is low-grade ovarian cancer?

Low-grade ovarian cancer is a rare form of ovarian cancer and a rare form of an already rare cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, people with ovaries have a lifetime risk of about 1 in 78, or a 1.2 percent, of developing any type of ovarian cancer.

Was this helpful?

Low-grade ovarian cancer is its own type of ovarian cancer. There are four stages of low-grade ovarian cancer:

  • Stage 1. In stage 1, the cancer is contained to one or both ovaries.
  • Stage 2. In stage 2, the cancer has spread to other reproductive organs.
  • Stage 3. In stage 3, the cancer has spread outside the pelvic region.
  • Stage 4. In stage 4, the cancer has spread to other major organs, such as the lungs, liver, kidney, or spleen.

Since low-grade ovarian cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms early on, it’s often not found until stage 2 or 3.

What is the difference between high-grade and low-grade ovarian cancer?

Low-grade ovarian cancer is very rare. It’s more likely to occur in younger patients, including patients in their 20s and 30s, although most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 57.

Additionally, the cancer cells that make up low-grade ovarian cancer tumors are different from the cancer cells that make up high-grade ovarian cancer tumors. They behave more like the standard cells in your body. This makes them slow-growing, but it also makes them more resistant to chemotherapy.

Was this helpful?

There’s currently no screen testing for ovarian cancer. Generally, an ovarian cancer diagnosis is confirmed after a variety of tests. These tests often include:

  • Pelvic exam. A pelvic exam can look for inflammation and other signs of cancer.
  • Blood test. A blood test will look for a high level of proteins that can indicate cancer.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound. A transvaginal ultrasound can look for tumors.
  • Imaging tests. You might have an MRI or CT scan so that doctors can get clear images of your ovaries. This can help them spot tumors and confirm a diagnosis.

Usually, the first treatment option for low-grade ovarian cancer is surgery to remove the tumor and affected tissues or organs. The exact surgery needed will depend on the tumor growth, the organs affected, and if there’s any desire to preserve fertility.

Often, by the time low-grade ovarian cancer is diagnosed, it’s necessary to remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb, and cervix. But individual cases will vary.

Other treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy. Low-grade ovarian cancer doesn’t respond as well to chemotherapy as other forms of ovarian cancer. However, chemotherapy is still often used before or after surgery to help kill cancer cells. It’s also used if cancer comes back after surgery.
  • Hormone therapy. Estrogen can promote the growth of tumors in low-grade ovarian cancer. Estrogen blockers can help slow the growth of tumors and can help treat low-grade ovarian cancer.
  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a treatment for cancer that helps teach your body how to identify and kill cancer cells. Different targeted therapy medications accomplish this in different ways. Researchers are still determining the best type of targeted therapy for all types of ovarian cancer.

New treatments for low-grade ovarian cancer are on the horizon. In the spring of 2022, new research indicated that a target agent inhibitor drug called Trametinib might be beneficial in the treatment of low-grade ovarian cancer. When taken as a daily pill, it blocks the activity of a protein called MEK that fuels tumor growth.

Trametinib isn’t used to treat other forms of ovarian cancer, but the results of this clinical study show that using it for low-grade ovarian cancer could help increase survival rates.

The side effects of Trametinib are a concern, and more research still needs to be done. However, this development shows the progress in treating this form of ovarian cancer.

Right now, low-grade ovarian cancer is considered very hard to treat. If the cancer is found in an early stage, surgery can be used to treat low-grade ovarian cancer.

However, nearly all cases of low-grade ovarian cancer are found in later stages. Surgery can still help in these stages, but the condition is harder to manage.

About 85 percent of low-grade ovarian cancers recur, and the average survival rate with low-grade ovarian cancer is 9 years.

New research and treatment options are likely to improve these numbers in the years to come.

Keep in mind that low-grade ovarian cancer is rare, and every case is individual. Your personal outlook will depend on your stage at diagnosis, your overall health, and how well you respond to treatment.

Living with low-grade ovarian cancer

A diagnosis of low-grade ovarian cancer can be very stressful and frightening. This is true of any cancer, but it can be especially overwhelming to have a rare form of cancer like low-grade ovarian cancer. It’s important to have places to turn for support. There are some great resources online you can check out:

  • Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance Support Group. Connecting with other people who are managing ovarian cancer can be a great source of comfort and community. You can check out the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance Support Group for live support every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday at 1 p.m. EST.
  • CancerCare. CancerCare is an online resource for people with every type of cancer. You’ll find a variety of helpful tools and guides on the site. One great place to start is joining their oncology social worker-led Ovarian Cancer Patient Support Group, where you can get 24/7 support.
  • Inspire. If you’d rather connect with others using an always-available forum, check out Inspire’s Ovarian Cancer Online Community.
  • The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). NOCC offers a community of local support groups. You can find a group in your area to make face-to-face connections and learn about local resources.
  • The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance oncology social workers. In addition to their support groups, the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance also offers support from oncology social workers. You can dial 212-268-1002 to speak with social workers who can help you manage your cancer care concerns.
Was this helpful?

Low-grade ovarian cancer is a rare and slow-growing form of ovarian cancer.

Although it’s slow-growing, low-grade ovarian cancer is challenging to treat. It doesn’t respond as well to chemotherapy as other forms of ovarian cancer. Current treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal treatments, and targeted therapy.

New treatments for low-grade ovarian cancer are being researched and trialed. As new treatments are found, the chances of survival for people with this type of ovarian cancer are likely to improve.