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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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Stages of Ovarian Epithelial Cancer

    After ovarian epithelial cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the ovaries or to other parts of the body.

    The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the ovary or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The following procedures may be done:

    • Laparotomy: The doctor cuts into the abdomen and carefully looks at all the organs to see if they contain cancer. The doctor will also do a biopsy (cut out small pieces of tissue so they can be looked at under a microscope to see whether they contain cancer). Usually the doctor will remove the cancer and organs that contain cancer during the laparotomy. (See the Treatment Options by Stage section.)
    • Thoracentesis: The removal of fluid from the space between the lining of the chest and the lung, using a needle. A pathologist views the fluid under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

    There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

    The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:

    • Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
    • Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
    • Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.

    When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

    The following stages are used for ovarian epithelial cancer:

    Stage I

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