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About stages and grades

Find out about staging and the grades of ovarian cancer.

Staging ovarian cancer

The stage of a cancer tells the doctor how far it has grown and if it has spread. The tests and scans you have to diagnose your cancer will give some information about the stage. This information will help your specialist tailor your treatment to the stage of your cancer.

Doctors use a simple 1 to 4 staging system for ovarian cancer. It is called the FIGO system after its authors - the International Federation of Gynaecological Oncologists.

Grades of ovarian cancer

The grade of a cancer tells you how much the cancer cells look like normal cells. It gives your doctor an idea of how the cancer might behave and how quickly or slowly the cancer is likely to grow, and what treatment you need.

There are 3 grades of ovarian cancer:

  • grade 1, or well differentiated
  • grade 2, or moderately differentiated
  • grade 3, or poorly differentiated (or undifferentiated)

As a normal cell grows and matures, it becomes specialised for its role and place in the body. This is called differentiation. Cancer cells can look very like normal cells and are described as well differentiated or low grade. These cancers are more likely to grow slowly.

If the cancer cells look underdeveloped and nothing like a normal cell, they are known as undifferentiated or high grade. These cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly than low grade cancers.

Main treatments for ovarian cancer

The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. Almost all women with ovarian cancer will need surgery. The amount and type of surgery you have will depend on your stage and type of cancer.

For some women with very early stage ovarian cancer, surgery is the only treatment you need.

Most women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease and have a combination of both surgery and chemotherapy. You may have chemotherapy after surgery, or both before and after surgery.

You may find that other women you meet with ovarian cancer are having different treatments to you. They may have a different type of ovarian cancer, or their cancer may be a different stage.

Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse any questions you may have about your treatment. It often helps to write down a list of questions you want to ask. You could also take a close friend or relative with you when you go to see the doctor. They can help you remember what the doctor said.

Last reviewed: 
30 Nov 2016
  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    De Vita VT, Lawrence TS and Rosenberg SA
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J. and Hochhauser D.
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • The recognition and initial management of ovarian cancer
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), April 2011

  • Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma:ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    Annals of oncology 2013. 24 (suppl 6): Vi24 - vi 32

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