Ovarian cancer is a very dangerous disease simply because it is a disease that shows subtle or few signs and symptoms in its early stages. It is very often only in the later stages of ovarian cancer that it is detected and for this reason a very significant proportion of ovarian cancer sufferers have a very poor prognosis. For this reason ovarian cancer is considered to be one of the deadliest kinds of cancer.
The stages of ovarian cancer are classified in accordance with FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) and this is usually done by examining tissue obtained from surgery. The stages describe the extent of growth of the primary tumor and if it has metastasized to surrounding tissues such as the lymph nodes. It also clarifies the presence or the absence of metastasis from a distant location.
The stages of ovarian cancer are-
At this stage the cancer is limited to one or both ovaries.
During Stage 1A the cancer is restricted to one ovary and doesn’t show on the surface of the ovary. Fluid taken from the peritoneum does not show presence of the tumor.
By stage IB, the cancer is present in both ovaries but does not penetrate to the outside.
In stage IC the tumor will have reached the surface of the ovaries and the peritoneal fluid (washings) is negative.
During IIA to IIC stages of ovarian cancer pelvic extensions or implants of the cancer are seen.
Implant or extension into the fallopian tube or the uterus may be seen in stage IIA; however the peritoneal fluid could show up negative.
Other pelvic structures or other parts of the pelvis could be seen to be affected by the implants or the extensions but the washings could still be negative at Stage IIB.
By stage IIB, cancer cells are found in the washings, and the tumor would have spread to the fallopian tubes and the other parts of the pelvis.
In these later stages of ovarian cancer, the cancer cells would have spread to outside of the pelvis as well as to the peritoneum (abdominal lining) or it may not have spread to outside of the pelvis but may have spread to the omentum or the small intestine.
In stage IIIA microscopic metastases could extend beyond the pelvis and into the peritoneum.
In Stage IIIB, the metastases found in the abdominal lining could be less than 2 cm in size.
By stage IIIC the metastases could be larger than 2 cm and the lymph nodes may be affected.
By this time the cancer may have spread to distant places such as the liver and other areas outside the peritoneal cavity.
Many of the stages of ovarian cancer may have no symptoms or may exhibit subtle symptoms that could be present for a long time before diagnosis of cancer is made. There could be abdominal pain or discomfort. The presence of an abdominal mass, bloating, tiredness and a number of non specific symptoms of being generally unwell may be all that a woman experiences.