What Is Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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A woman has stage 3 ovarian cancer when the disease is present is one or both ovaries and abdominal lymph nodes or has spread beyond the pelvic region. There are three sub-categories within stage 3 ovarian cancer based on how far the disease has spread and how large the tumor implants are. Several tests including a pelvic examination, ultrasound, and tissue sample and blood analysis are performed to determine the stage of a patient’s cancer. Once the stage is determined, available treatment options and five-year survival rate can be discussed.

Stage 3 ovarian cancer is present in one or both ovaries but has also spread into the abdominal lining outside the pelvis and perhaps to nearby abdominal lymph nodes. The AJCC/TNM System determines the stage of ovarian cancer by describing the extent of the primary tumor and absence or presence of distant metastasis and metastasis to nearby lymph nodes. There are four stages of ovarian cancer; once the cancer extends beyond the ovaries, it will be staged as two, three, or four.


The first three stages of ovarian cancer are subdivided into three categories labeled a, b, and c. If the stage 3 ovarian cancer falls into subcategory a, then there is no cancer in the abdomen visible to the naked eye or in nearby lymph nodes. A subcategory b classification indicates that there is no cancer in nearby lymph nodes but there are visible tumor deposits in the abdomen that are smaller than .75 inches (two centimeters) across. When there is cancer in nearby lymph nodes and visible abdominal cancer deposits exceed .75 inches (2 cm) across, the disease will be staged as subcategory c.

The staging process usually begins with either surgery or imagining tests like an ultrasound, computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. During surgery, the surgeon examines the abdomen for visible signs of cancer and often collects tissue and fluid samples. If cancer is visible, the surgeon can immediately begin removing it. Imaging tests are a less-invasive way to determine whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries.

Staging determines how widespread a patient’s cancer is. Ovarian cancer may be staged during surgery if other tests cannot obviously indicate how far the disease has spread. Accurate staging is crucial because different treatments and prognoses are associated with each stage of ovarian cancer. Mistaken staging can result in improper treatment and inaccurate prognosis.

Patients who wish to make informed decisions about their treatment should ask their treatment teams to explain the staging procedure in detail. The staging procedure should be thorough and the stage should be determined after surgery. The five-year survival rate for patients with stage 3 ovarian cancer ranges from 20 to 50 percent but such statistics are only predictive; every patient’s case is unique.


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