How Ovarian Tumors are Evaluated
- The stage of a cancer, on a scale from 1 to 4, indicates whether or how far the tumor has spread from its initial location in the ovary
- The grade of a cancer, on a scale from 1 to 4, is an evaluation of the tumor cells and how different they look from normal/benign ovarian cells
Staging a TumorRead More
- Stage 1: Cancer is confined to one or both ovaries
- Stage 2: Cancer has spread within the pelvis
- Stage 3: Cancer has spread to other organs in the abdomen
- Stage 4: Cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body
Sometimes a cancer's stage is determined by the results of a CT scan instead. "Before doctors go to the operating room for a suspected ovarian cancer, patients will have a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis," explains Dr. Diver. If the CT scan reveals metastatic disease, the doctor may decide to prescribe chemotherapy before surgerycalled neoadjuvant chemotherapyto shrink the tumor before operating. "We can use the staging from the CT scan to substitute for surgical staging," says Dr. Diver.
Grading a Tumor
Tumors don't get grades of A, B, C or F like students. Instead they get numerical grades, much like the numerical grades for tumor staging. "Grade is a scale that pathologists determine by looking at tumor cells under the microscope," says Dr. Diver. The grade of an ovarian tumor is an evaluation of how abnormal the cells are, and how different they look from normal/benign ovarian cells. The more abnormal a tumor's cells are, the more aggressively growing the cancer is thought to be.
The grades of ovarian tumors are:
Grade 1: The cells are well differentiated, which means they closely resemble normal cells and are less likely to spread or come back after treatment.
Grade 2: The cells are moderately differentiated, meaning show increasing abnormality compared to normal cells. they are also more likely to spread and recur.
Grade 3: The cells are poorly differentiated, meaning they’re very abnormal compared to healthy ovarian cells. They are the most likely to spread and recur after treatment.
Unfortunately, because ovarian cancer has few symptoms in its early stages, it's usually diagnosed at an advanced stage and grade. "The vast majority of ovarian cancer is high grade, and most commonly presents at stage three or four by the time it's diagnosed," says Dr. Diver.
But knowledge is power, and one key to winning any battle is to know your enemy. Knowing a tumor's stage and grade gives doctors the information they need to fight it effectively.