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Stage 1

What stage 1 ovarian cancer means and what the treatment options are.

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.

Stage 1

Stage 1 ovarian cancer means the cancer is only in the ovaries. It is divided into 3 groups:

  • stage 1a - the cancer is completely inside one ovary
  • stage 1b - the cancer is completely inside both ovaries
  • stage 1c - as well as cancer in one or both ovaries, there is some cancer on the surface of an ovary, there are cancer cells in fluid taken from inside your abdomen during surgery, or the ovary ruptures (bursts) before or during surgery
Diagram showing stage 1 ovarian cancer


The stage of your cancer helps your doctor to decide which treatment you need. Treatment also depends on:

  • your type of cancer (the type of cells the cancer started in)
  • where the cancer is
  • other health conditions that you have

Treating stage 1 ovarian cancer

The main treatment for stage 1 ovarian cancer is surgery. Your doctor may suggest you have chemotherapy if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back, such as if you have stage 1c or a high grade (grade 3) cancer.

Very early ovarian cancer

If you have a borderline ovarian tumour or a very early cancer (stage 1a) that is low grade, you may only need to have the affected ovary and fallopian tube removed. As the unaffected ovary and your womb are left behind, you may still be able to have children in the future.

Your surgeon will take biopsies from several areas within your abdomen and pelvis during surgery to fully stage your cancer. If there are cancer cells in any of these samples, you may need another operation to remove the rest of the cancer.

If you have had your menopause, or do not want to have any more children, your surgeon may advise that you have both ovaries and your womb taken out. Women with a borderline tumour or very early cancer may not need any other treatment after surgery.

Early stage ovarian cancer

Surgery for early stage ovarian cancer (stage 1) aims to remove the cancer and fully stage the disease. Knowing the stage helps your doctor decide if you need treatment after surgery.

For most women with stage 1 ovarian cancer, you will have surgery to remove your:

  • ovaries
  • fallopian tubes
  • womb (including the cervix)

After surgery, your doctor may suggest you have chemotherapy if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back, such as if you have stage 1c or a high grade (grade 3) cancer. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.

Last reviewed: 
08 Oct 2016
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J. and Hochhauser D.
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • 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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