Ovarian cancer that spreads to your brain is rare and life threatening. Your outlook depends on factors such as the extent of metastasis, your overall health, and earlier treatments.

Ovarian cancer that reaches a distant site, such as your brain, is metastatic ovarian cancer. It’s also known as advanced or stage 4.

Brain metastasis in ovarian cancer is uncommon. But metastasis is a major cause of mortality for people with ovarian cancer.

This article discusses the incidence (occurrence of cases) and symptoms of brain metastasis, as well as the general outlook for people with metastatic ovarian cancer.

The 5-year relative survival rate for advanced ovarian cancer is 31.5%. Keep in mind that these stats come from 2013–2019 data. They don’t reflect more recent diagnoses or the latest treatments.

The 5-year relative survival rate for early stage ovarian cancer is 92.4%. But about 55% of ovarian cancers are already advanced when people receive a diagnosis. That may help explain a high overall mortality rate. Ovarian cancer causes almost 5% of cancer-related deaths in women.

Factors affecting outlook

Your outlook depends on many factors, such as:

  • type (epithelial, germ cell, stromal)
  • grade (level of aggressiveness)
  • number of sites of metastasis
  • number and size of tumors
  • your age and general health

How aggressive is ovarian cancer (how fast does it grow)?

Though it can grow at different rates, ovarian cancer tends to grow quickly. A particularly slow-growing type, low grade ovarian cancer is rare.

Ovarian cancer isn’t very common. It accounts for only about 2.5% of cancers among women. With an incidence rate of 0.29–5%, brain metastases in ovarian cancer are even less common.

Can you survive metastatic brain cancer?

People with brain metastasis generally have a poor outlook. Life expectancy is a few months to several years after diagnosis. Some people survive longer.

A 2017 study found the survival rates after brain metastasis from gynecological cancer (which includes cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancer) to be:

  • 6 months: 44%
  • 12 months: 22%
  • 24 months: 16%

In addition, according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, stage 4 ovarian cancer has a recurrence rate of 90–95%.

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Not everyone has or recognizes symptoms in the earliest stages. But ovarian cancer symptoms may include:

  • abdominal bloating, feeling full quickly, or upset stomach
  • abdominal or back pain or pain during sex
  • having to urinate urgently or more often
  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • abnormal discharge, period changes, or vaginal bleeding after menopause

Symptoms of brain metastases differ according to the exact location, number, and size of your tumors. Symptoms may include:

  • headaches
  • nausea, vomiting, or both
  • memory difficulties
  • emotional or personality changes
  • vision and hearing difficulties
  • swallowing difficulty
  • lack of coordination, clumsiness
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • seizures

Like other cancers, ovarian cancer can spread just about anywhere. It typically spreads first to nearby sites such as your fallopian tubes, uterus, and lymph nodes. It can also spread to your omentum, a layer of tissue that lines your abdomen.

When it comes to distant spread, ovarian cancer is most likely to spread to your liver, lungs, or bone.

Liver metastasis

Signs and symptoms of liver metastasis may include:

  • jaundice
  • loss of appetite
  • changes in bowel movements, including color and frequency
  • enlarged liver

Lung metastasis

Tumors in your lungs can lead to:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • chest pain

Bone metastasis

In your bones, cancer can cause:

  • weakness
  • bone pain
  • fractures

Because it’s so rare, there’s no consensus on how to best manage brain metastases from ovarian cancer. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery: Surgery may be done to remove as much cancer as possible or to relieve your symptoms. Research suggests that brain surgery might be more beneficial if you have large tumors. It may be less helpful if you have multiple small tumors or widespread disease.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy can target a specific area to kill cancer cells. For brain tumors, you might have external beam radiation, which sends rays of energy to the tumor. Or you might have internal radiation, or brachytherapy. In this type, the surgeon places small seeds of radiation near the tumor.

Because the brain tumors are from ovarian cancer, it’s still treated as ovarian cancer. Surgery and radiation are usually just part of your overall treatment plan. You’ll likely need a combination of treatments, which may include:

A doctor can use these treatments in different ways to align with your goals. Surgery, radiation, and chemo can help eliminate cancer. But you can also use them to ease your symptoms and improve or maintain your quality of life.

Whether your goals are to successfully treat or to control your cancer, you can receive palliative care. Palliative care offers physical and psychological support to improve your quality of life. At some point, you might also be interested in hospice care.

It’s a good idea to speak with a doctor about all the potential benefits and risks of each treatment. Be sure to ask about side effects, recovery time, and logistics of getting these treatments. Your personal preferences matter, too.

Ovarian cancer that has spread to your brain is life threatening. Though metastasis to your brain is rare, metastatic ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, and chemo.

Many factors, such as cancer characteristics, overall health, and prior treatments, can affect your outlook.

Each person with ovarian cancer is different. To get a better idea what you can expect, it’s best to speak with an oncologist who is familiar with you and your circumstances.