Metastatic ovarian cancer is cancer that has spread from the ovaries, or the fallopian tubes, to parts of the body outside the site of origin. Ovarian cancer that has metastasized is classified as Stage IV.
When cancer is found outside the site of origin — outside the ovary — it may be considered locally advanced (when it is other parts of the pelvis) or metastatic (when it has spread to more distant sites).
There is no single trajectory for where ovarian cancer will spread; however, if not caught in early stages, most cases of ovarian cancer will follow a similar path: from the pelvis, to more distant parts of the abdomen and peritoneal cavity, to the lymph nodes, and the liver. When ovarian cancer cells are found within these areas, the cancer is still not metastasized, and in many cases can be treated effectively.
Patients who are diagnosed with Stage I and Stage II ovarian cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 90% and 70%, respectively. Patients diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 39%. When looking at statistics, it is important to remember that these numbers are representative of a large swath of patients, and are not indicative of any one individual’s prognosis.
If not treated successfully, ovarian cancer will continue to metastasize to more distant areas of the body, such as the lungs, fluid in the lungs, or tissue inside the liver. Ovarian cancer that has spread this far is Stage IV. Metastatic ovarian cancer can then continue to spread to other organs and tissues. At this stage of the disease, it becomes more difficult to treat. Statistically speaking, patients diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer have a five-year survival rate of approximately 17%.
Research has shown that ovarian tumors that begin in the fallopian tubes — as is thought to be the case in high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma, which is the most common subtype of ovarian cancer — take an average of 6.5 years to spread to the ovaries. Because ovarian cancer often does not produce noticeable symptoms in early stages, and any signs or symptoms often mimic common problems that are not typically cause for concern, it is possible to have ovarian cancer without knowing it for several years.
After reaching the ovaries, the tumors tend to spread more quickly to other nearby areas and, if not treated successfully, to more distant parts of the body such as the spleen, intestines, brain, skin, and lymph nodes.
How fast ovarian cancer spreads also depends on other factors, including the molecular makeup of the cells. Epithelial ovarian cancers are divided into high-grade (again, the most common subtype) and low-grade. High-grade malignancies grow more quickly, leading to faster spread, while low-grade malignancies grow and spread more slowly. However, high-grade ovarian carcinoma tends to be more responsive to treatment, while low-grade is more often resistant to therapies, and is thus more challenging to treat,
Though it is more difficult to achieve remission from metastatic ovarian cancer, it is certainly not impossible. When determining the course of treatment for metastatic ovarian cancer, a patient’s medical team will look at factors such as the type of ovarian cancer, patient’s age and overall health, presence of any genetic mutations and potential therapeutic targets, past response to treatment, and more.
The speed at which researchers are making advances is cause for hope, as are the many patients in OCRA’s community who are long-term survivors of the disease.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer, OCRA is here for you.
- Our oncology social worker is available to take your calls Monday through Friday, at 212-268-1002. If she misses your call, she’ll call you back within 24 hours.
- Staying Connected, our online support group, meets several times per week, and is a safe place to share what you’re going through with others who are going through a similar experience.
- Woman to Woman is OCRA’s peer-to-peer support program that pairs gynecologic cancer patients with trained survivor volunteers who offer mentoring and emotional support. It’s available at sites across the country, or virtually.
- OCRA’s ovarian cancer online support forum through Inspire.com offers a safe and private place to share encouraging feedback, compassionate support, and honest personal experiences.