Ovarian cancer

Understanding your diagnosis

Ovarian cancer

Understanding your diagnosis star_border Save this page

Your test results provide a lot of information about your ovarian cancer.

This may include:

  • the cells it started in (cancer type)
  • whether it has spread from where it started (cancer stage)
  • whether it is likely to grow quickly or slowly (cancer grade).

Your specialist uses this information to explain how the cancer could affect you in the future (your prognosis), and what your treatment options are. Your specialist may arrange further tests if more information is required. 

What you need to know

Types of ovarian cancer

There are several types of ovarian cancer. These are described by the sort of cell the cancer started in. The most common types are:

  • epithelial
  • germ cell
  • stromal cell.

Epithelial ovarian cancers have a number of subtypes:

  • serous
  • mucinous
  • endometrioid
  • clear cell
  • undifferentiated.

Ovarian cancer staging

The most common staging system for ovarian cancers is the FIGO (Federation Internationale de Gynecologie et d'Obstetrique) system. This is a staging system specifically for ovarian, fallopian tube and peritoneal cancers.

  • Stage 1 – the cancer is only in the ovaries
  • Stage 2 – it has spread beyond the ovaries to the fallopian tubes or to other tissues in the pelvis, e.g. the bladder or bowel
  • Stage 3 – the cancer has spread out of the pelvis to the abdominal lining (peritoneum) or lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen
  • Stage 4 – has spread to other organs (e.g. the liver or lungs).

Cancer grade

The grade of a cancer is based on how abnormal the cells look under a microscope. Cancers with very abnormal cells are likely to grow and spread faster. 

  • Grade 1 (low grade) – the cells look similar to normal cells and are growing and dividing slowly.
  • Grade 2 (intermediate grade) – the cells don’t look like normal cells and are growing and dividing faster than normal cells.
  • Grade 3 (high grade) – the cells look very abnormal and are growing and dividing quickly.

What to ask or talk about

Talking about prognosis

Prognosis means what is likely to happen to you in the future because of your cancer. You may find it hard to talk about prognosis but it can help you make decisions about the treatment and care you want.

Everyone’s cancer is different, and everyone responds differently to treatment. Because of this, doctors can’t tell you exactly what will happen to you. Instead, they can give you the best information they have about what to expect.

Doctors work out prognosis based on statistics. These show what happens in large groups of people with cancer. They cannot predict what will happen to you or any other individual person. 

checklist Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Treatment planning

Your specialist will share information about you and your cancer with a multidisciplinary team (MDT) to decide the best treatment options for you.

You may need more than one type of treatment or have a choice of treatments. You may also need to see other specialists during treatment planning.

Dealing with your diagnosis

Getting a cancer diagnosis is very distressing for the person with cancer, and their carers, family and friends. Different people react in different ways. They can be upset and angry or just in shock. Many people find it difficult to take in all the information and understand what it will mean for them.

The situation can be especially difficult for people who get a diagnosis of advanced cancer. 

If you need to speak to someone about your diagnosis, you can call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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