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The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries make eggs and female hormones (chemicals that control the way certain cells or organs work).
Ovarian epithelial cancer is one type of cancer that affects the ovary. See the following PDQ treatment summaries for information about other types of ovariantumors:
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Women who have one first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister) with ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. This risk is higher in women who have one first-degree relative and one second-degree relative (grandmother or aunt) with ovarian cancer. This risk is even higher in women who have two or more first-degree relatives with ovarian cancer.
The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person’s parents. Hereditary ovarian cancer makes up about 5% to 10% of all cases of ovarian cancer. Three hereditary patterns have been identified: ovarian cancer alone, ovarian and breast cancers, and ovarian and colon cancers.
There are tests that can detect mutated genes. These genetic tests are sometimes done for members of families with a high risk of cancer. See the following PDQ summaries for more information:
Some women who have an increased risk of ovarian cancer may choose to have a prophylactic oophorectomy (the removal of healthy ovaries so that cancer cannot grow in them). In high-risk women, this procedure has been shown to greatly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. (See the PDQ summary on Ovarian Cancer Prevention for more information.)
Ovarian cancer may not cause early signs or symptoms. When signs or symptoms do appear, ovarian cancer is often advanced. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include the following:
These signs and symptoms also may be caused by other conditions and not by ovarian cancer. If the signs or symptoms get worse or do not go away on their own, check with your doctor so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. When found in its early stages, ovarian epithelial cancer can often be cured.
Women with any stage of ovarian cancer should think about taking part in a clinical trial. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
The process used to find out whether cancer has spread within the ovaries 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 results of the tests used to diagnoseovarian cancer are often also used to stage the disease. (See the General Information section.)
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if ovarian epithelial cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually ovarian epithelial cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian epithelial cancer, not lung cancer.
In stage I, cancer is found in one or both ovaries. Stage I is divided into stage IA, stage IB, and stage IC.
In stage II, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread into other areas of the pelvis. Stage II is divided into stage IIA, stage IIB, and stage IIC.
In stage III, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen and/or nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is divided into stage IIIA, stage IIIB, and stage IIIC.
Cancer that has spread to the surface of the liver is also considered stage III ovarian cancer.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or tissue inside the liver.
Cancer cells in the fluid around the lungs is also considered stage IV ovarian cancer.
Recurrentovarian epithelial cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. Persistent cancer is cancer that does not go away with treatment.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with ovarian epithelial cancer. Some treatments are standard, and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the treatment currently used as standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Most patients have surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Different types of surgery may include:
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Some women receive a treatment called intraperitoneal radiation therapy, in which radioactive liquid is put directly in the abdomen through a catheter.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).
A type of regional chemotherapy used to treat ovarian cancer is intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. In IP chemotherapy, the anticancer drugs are carried directly into the peritoneal cavity (the space that contains the abdominal organs) through a thin tube.
Treatment with more than one anticancer drug is called combination chemotherapy.
The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Ovarian Cancer for more information.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Monoclonal antibodytherapy is a type of targeted therapy that uses antibodies made in the laboratory, from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody being studied in treating ovarian epithelial cancer.
PARP inhibitors are targeted therapy drugs that block DNA repair and may cause cancer cells to die. PARP inhibitor therapy is being studied in treating ovarian epithelial cancer that remains after chemotherapy.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Treatment of stage I and stage IIovarian epithelial cancer may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I ovarian epithelial cancer and stage II ovarian epithelial cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment of stage III and stage IVovarian epithelial cancer may be surgery to remove the tumor, total abdominal hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, and omentectomy. After surgery, treatment depends on how much tumor remains.
When the tumor that remains is 1 centimeter or smaller, treatment is usually combination chemotherapy, including intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy.
When the tumor that remains is larger than 1 centimeter, treatment may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III ovarian epithelial cancer and stage IV ovarian epithelial cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment of recurrentovarian epithelial cancer may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about ovarian epithelial cancer, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
This information is provided by the National Cancer Institute.
This information was last updated on September 2, 2014.
Estimated new cases and deaths from ovarian cancer in the United States in 2013:
Several malignancies arise from the ovary. Epithelial carcinoma of the ovary
is one of the most common gynecologic malignancies and the fifth most frequent
cause of cancer death in women, with 50% of all cases occurring in women older than
65 years. Approximately 5% to 10% of ovarian cancers are familial, and three
distinct hereditary patterns have been identified: ovarian cancer alone,
ovarian and breast cancers, or ovarian and colon cancers.
important risk factor for ovarian cancer is a family history of a first-degree
relative (e.g., mother, daughter, or sister) with the disease. The highest risk
appears in women who have two or more first-degree relatives with ovarian cancer.
The risk is somewhat less for women who have one first-degree and one second-degree relative (grandmother or aunt) with ovarian cancer.
Findings from risk-reducing surgeries in healthy women with BRCA1/2 mutations have reinforced the hypothesis that many high-grade serous cancers—the most common histologic subtype of ovarian cancer—may arise from precursor lesions that originate in the fimbriae of the fallopian tubes. In addition, histologically similar cancers diagnosed as primary peritoneal carcinomas share molecular findings, such as loss or inactivation of the tumor-suppressors p53 and BRCA1/2 proteins. Therefore, high-grade serous adenocarcinomas arising from the fallopian tube and elsewhere in the peritoneal cavity, together with most ovarian epithelial cancers, represent "extrauterine adenocarcinomas of Müllerian epithelial origin" and are staged and treated similarly to ovarian cancer; from 2000 onward, they are usually included in ovarian cancer clinical trials. On the other hand, clear cell and endometrioid ovarian cancers that are linked to endometriosis have different gene-expression signatures, as do mucinous subtypes.
In most families affected
with the breast and ovarian cancer syndrome or site-specific ovarian cancer,
genetic linkage has been found to the BRCA1 locus on chromosome 17q21.BRCA2, also responsible for some instances of inherited ovarian and breast
cancer, has been mapped by genetic linkage to chromosome 13q12. The
lifetime risk for developing ovarian cancer in patients harboring germline
mutations in BRCA1 is substantially increased over the general population.
Two retrospective studies of patients with germline mutations in BRCA1 suggest
that these women have improved survival compared with BRCA1 mutation-negative
women.[Level of evidence: 3iiiA] The majority of women with a BRCA1 mutation probably have
family members with a history of ovarian and/or breast cancer; therefore,
these women may have been more vigilant and inclined to participate in cancer
screening programs that may have led to earlier detection.
For women at
increased risk, prophylactic oophorectomy may be considered after the age of 35
if childbearing is complete. In a family-based study among women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, of the 259 women who had undergone bilateral prophylactic oophorectomy, two of them (0.8%) developed subsequent papillary serous peritoneal carcinoma, and six of them (2.8%) had stage I ovarian cancer at the time of surgery. Of the 292 matched controls, 20% who did not have prophylactic surgery developed ovarian cancer. Prophylactic surgery was associated with a higher than 90% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer (relative risk [RR], 0.04; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.01–0.16), with an average follow-up of 9 years; however, family-based studies may be associated with biases resulting from case selection and other factors that may influence the estimate of benefit. (Refer to the Description of the Evidence section in the PDQ summary on Ovarian Cancer Prevention for more information.)
a prophylactic oophorectomy, a small percentage of women may develop a
primary peritoneal carcinoma, similar in appearance to ovarian cancer. The prognostic information presented below
deals only with epithelial carcinomas. Stromal and germ cell tumors are
relatively uncommon and comprise less than 10% of cases. (Refer to the PDQ
summaries on Ovarian Germ Cell Tumor Treatment and Ovarian Low Malignant
Potential Tumor Treatment for more information.)
Ovarian cancer usually spreads via local shedding into the peritoneal cavity
followed by implantation on the peritoneum and via local invasion of bowel and
bladder. The incidence of positive nodes at primary surgery has been reported
to be as much as 24% in patients with stage I disease, 50% in patients with stage II
disease, 74% in patients with stage III disease, and 73% in patients with stage
IV disease. In this study, the pelvic nodes were involved as often as the
para-aortic nodes. Tumor cells may also block diaphragmatic lymphatics. The
resulting impairment of lymphatic drainage of the peritoneum is thought to play
a role in development of ascites in ovarian cancer. Also, transdiaphragmatic
spread to the pleura is common.
Prognosis in ovarian cancer is influenced by several factors, but multivariate
analyses suggest that the most important favorable factors include:
For patients with stage I disease, the most
important prognostic factor is grade, followed by dense adherence and
large-volume ascites. DNA flow cytometric analysis of stage I and stage
IIA patients may identify a group of high-risk patients. Patients with
clear cell histology appear to have a worse prognosis. Patients with a
significant component of transitional cell carcinoma appear to have a better
Although the ovarian cancer-associated antigen, CA 125, has no prognostic
significance when measured at the time of diagnosis, it has a high correlation
with survival when measured 1 month after the third course of chemotherapy
for patients with stage III or stage IV disease. For patients whose
elevated CA 125 normalizes with chemotherapy, more than one subsequent elevated
CA 125 measurement is highly predictive of active disease, but this does not mandate
Case-control studies suggest that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers have improved responses to chemotherapy when compared with patients with sporadic epithelial ovarian cancer. This may be the result of a deficient homologous DNA repair mechanism in these tumors, which leads to increased sensitivity to chemotherapy agents.
Most patients with ovarian cancer have widespread disease at presentation. This may be partly explained by relatively early spread (and implantation) of high-grade papillary serous cancers to the rest of the peritoneal cavity. Conversely, symptoms such as abdominal pain and swelling, gastrointestinal symptoms, and pelvic pain often go unrecognized, leading to delays in diagnosis. Screening procedures such as gynecologic assessment, vaginal ultrasound, and CA 125 assay have had low predictive value in detecting ovarian cancer in women without special risk factors. Efforts have been made to enhance physician and patient awareness of the occurrence of these nonspecific symptoms. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Pain and Gastrointestinal Complications for more information.) As a result of these confounding factors,
yearly mortality in ovarian cancer is approximately 65% of the incidence rate.
Long-term follow-up of suboptimally debulked stage III and stage IV patients
showed a 5-year survival rate of less than 10% with platinum-based
combination therapy prior to the current generation of trials including taxanes. By contrast, optimally debulked stage III patients treated with a combination of intravenous taxane and intraperitoneal platinum plus taxane achieved a median survival of 66 months in a Gynecologic Oncology Group trial. Numerous clinical trials are in progress to
refine existing therapy and test the value of different approaches to
postoperative drug and radiation therapy. Patients with any stage of ovarian
cancer are appropriate candidates for clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Other PDQ summaries containing information related to ovarian epithelial cancer include the following:
American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2013. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2013. Available online. Last accessed January 10, 2014.
Yancik R: Ovarian cancer. Age contrasts in incidence, histology, disease stage at diagnosis, and mortality. Cancer 71 (2 Suppl): 517-23, 1993.
Lynch HT, Watson P, Lynch JF, et al.: Hereditary ovarian cancer. Heterogeneity in age at onset. Cancer 71 (2 Suppl): 573-81, 1993.
Piver MS, Goldberg JM, Tsukada Y, et al.: Characteristics of familial ovarian cancer: a report of the first 1,000 families in the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. Eur J Gynaecol Oncol 17 (3): 169-76, 1996.
Levanon K, Crum C, Drapkin R: New insights into the pathogenesis of serous ovarian cancer and its clinical impact. J Clin Oncol 26 (32): 5284-93, 2008.
Birrer MJ: The origin of ovarian cancer—is it getting clearer? N Engl J Med 363 (16): 1574-5, 2010.
Miki Y, Swensen J, Shattuck-Eidens D, et al.: A strong candidate for the breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1. Science 266 (5182): 66-71, 1994.
Easton DF, Bishop DT, Ford D, et al.: Genetic linkage analysis in familial breast and ovarian cancer: results from 214 families. The Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Am J Hum Genet 52 (4): 678-701, 1993.
Steichen-Gersdorf E, Gallion HH, Ford D, et al.: Familial site-specific ovarian cancer is linked to BRCA1 on 17q12-21. Am J Hum Genet 55 (5): 870-5, 1994.
Wooster R, Neuhausen SL, Mangion J, et al.: Localization of a breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, to chromosome 13q12-13. Science 265 (5181): 2088-90, 1994.
Easton DF, Ford D, Bishop DT: Breast and ovarian cancer incidence in BRCA1-mutation carriers. Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Am J Hum Genet 56 (1): 265-71, 1995.
Struewing JP, Hartge P, Wacholder S, et al.: The risk of cancer associated with specific mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 among Ashkenazi Jews. N Engl J Med 336 (20): 1401-8, 1997.
Rubin SC, Benjamin I, Behbakht K, et al.: Clinical and pathological features of ovarian cancer in women with germ-line mutations of BRCA1. N Engl J Med 335 (19): 1413-6, 1996.
Aida H, Takakuwa K, Nagata H, et al.: Clinical features of ovarian cancer in Japanese women with germ-line mutations of BRCA1. Clin Cancer Res 4 (1): 235-40, 1998.
Rebbeck TR, Lynch HT, Neuhausen SL, et al.: Prophylactic oophorectomy in carriers of BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. N Engl J Med 346 (21): 1616-22, 2002.
Klaren HM, van't Veer LJ, van Leeuwen FE, et al.: Potential for bias in studies on efficacy of prophylactic surgery for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (13): 941-7, 2003.
Piver MS, Jishi MF, Tsukada Y, et al.: Primary peritoneal carcinoma after prophylactic oophorectomy in women with a family history of ovarian cancer. A report of the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. Cancer 71 (9): 2751-5, 1993.
Burghardt E, Girardi F, Lahousen M, et al.: Patterns of pelvic and paraaortic lymph node involvement in ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 40 (2): 103-6, 1991.
Omura GA, Brady MF, Homesley HD, et al.: Long-term follow-up and prognostic factor analysis in advanced ovarian carcinoma: the Gynecologic Oncology Group experience. J Clin Oncol 9 (7): 1138-50, 1991.
van Houwelingen JC, ten Bokkel Huinink WW, van der Burg ME, et al.: Predictability of the survival of patients with advanced ovarian cancer. J Clin Oncol 7 (6): 769-73, 1989.
Neijt JP, ten Bokkel Huinink WW, van der Burg ME, et al.: Long-term survival in ovarian cancer. Mature data from The Netherlands Joint Study Group for Ovarian Cancer. Eur J Cancer 27 (11): 1367-72, 1991.
Hoskins WJ, Bundy BN, Thigpen JT, et al.: The influence of cytoreductive surgery on recurrence-free interval and survival in small-volume stage III epithelial ovarian cancer: a Gynecologic Oncology Group study. Gynecol Oncol 47 (2): 159-66, 1992.
Thigpen T, Brady MF, Omura GA, et al.: Age as a prognostic factor in ovarian carcinoma. The Gynecologic Oncology Group experience. Cancer 71 (2 Suppl): 606-14, 1993.
Dembo AJ, Davy M, Stenwig AE, et al.: Prognostic factors in patients with stage I epithelial ovarian cancer. Obstet Gynecol 75 (2): 263-73, 1990.
Schueler JA, Cornelisse CJ, Hermans J, et al.: Prognostic factors in well-differentiated early-stage epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer 71 (3): 787-95, 1993.
Young RC, Walton LA, Ellenberg SS, et al.: Adjuvant therapy in stage I and stage II epithelial ovarian cancer. Results of two prospective randomized trials. N Engl J Med 322 (15): 1021-7, 1990.
Gershenson DM, Silva EG, Mitchell MF, et al.: Transitional cell carcinoma of the ovary: a matched control study of advanced-stage patients treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Am J Obstet Gynecol 168 (4): 1178-85; discussion 1185-7, 1993.
Mogensen O: Prognostic value of CA 125 in advanced ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 44 (3): 207-12, 1992.
Högberg T, Kågedal B: Long-term follow-up of ovarian cancer with monthly determinations of serum CA 125. Gynecol Oncol 46 (2): 191-8, 1992.
Rustin GJ, Nelstrop AE, Tuxen MK, et al.: Defining progression of ovarian carcinoma during follow-up according to CA 125: a North Thames Ovary Group Study. Ann Oncol 7 (4): 361-4, 1996.
Vencken PM, Kriege M, Hoogwerf D, et al.: Chemosensitivity and outcome of BRCA1- and BRCA2-associated ovarian cancer patients after first-line chemotherapy compared with sporadic ovarian cancer patients. Ann Oncol 22 (6): 1346-52, 2011.
Safra T, Borgato L, Nicoletto MO, et al.: BRCA mutation status and determinant of outcome in women with recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer treated with pegylated liposomal doxorubicin. Mol Cancer Ther 10 (10): 2000-7, 2011.
Hogg R, Friedlander M: Biology of epithelial ovarian cancer: implications for screening women at high genetic risk. J Clin Oncol 22 (7): 1315-27, 2004.
Partridge E, Kreimer AR, Greenlee RT, et al.: Results from four rounds of ovarian cancer screening in a randomized trial. Obstet Gynecol 113 (4): 775-82, 2009.
van Nagell JR Jr, Miller RW, DeSimone CP, et al.: Long-term survival of women with epithelial ovarian cancer detected by ultrasonographic screening. Obstet Gynecol 118 (6): 1212-21, 2011.
Goff BA, Mandel L, Muntz HG, et al.: Ovarian carcinoma diagnosis. Cancer 89 (10): 2068-75, 2000.
Friedman GD, Skilling JS, Udaltsova NV, et al.: Early symptoms of ovarian cancer: a case-control study without recall bias. Fam Pract 22 (5): 548-53, 2005.
Smith LH, Morris CR, Yasmeen S, et al.: Ovarian cancer: can we make the clinical diagnosis earlier? Cancer 104 (7): 1398-407, 2005.
Goff BA, Mandel LS, Melancon CH, et al.: Frequency of symptoms of ovarian cancer in women presenting to primary care clinics. JAMA 291 (22): 2705-12, 2004.
Goff BA, Mandel LS, Drescher CW, et al.: Development of an ovarian cancer symptom index: possibilities for earlier detection. Cancer 109 (2): 221-7, 2007.
Armstrong DK, Bundy B, Wenzel L, et al.: Intraperitoneal cisplatin and paclitaxel in ovarian cancer. N Engl J Med 354 (1): 34-43, 2006.
Ozols RF, Young RC: Ovarian cancer. Curr Probl Cancer 11 (2): 57-122, 1987 Mar-Apr.
Cannistra SA: Cancer of the ovary. N Engl J Med 329 (21): 1550-9, 1993.
The following is a list of ovarian epithelial cancer histologic
(Refer to the PDQ summary on Ovarian Low Malignant Potential Tumor Treatment
for more information.)
In the absence of extra-abdominal metastatic disease, definitive staging of
ovarian cancer requires surgery. The role of surgery in patients with stage
IV disease and extra-abdominal disease is yet to be established. If disease
appears to be limited to the ovaries or pelvis, it is essential at laparotomy
to examine and biopsy or to obtain cytologic brushings of the diaphragm, both paracolic gutters, the pelvic
peritoneum, para-aortic and pelvic nodes, and infracolic omentum, and to obtain
The serum CA 125 level is valuable in the follow-up and restaging of patients
who have elevated CA 125 levels at the time of diagnosis. While an
elevated CA 125 level indicates a high probability of epithelial ovarian
cancer, a negative CA 125 level cannot be used to exclude the presence of
residual disease. CA 125 levels can also be elevated in other malignancies
and benign gynecologic problems such as endometriosis, and CA 125 levels should
be used with a histologic diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer.
The Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d’Obstétrique (FIGO) and the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) have designated staging to define ovarian epithelial cancer; the FIGO system is most commonly used.
Growth limited to the ovaries.
Growth limited to one ovary; no ascites present containing malignant cells. No tumor on the external surface; capsule intact.
Growth limited to both ovaries; no ascites present containing malignant cells. No tumor on the external surfaces; capsules intact.
Tumor either stage Ia or Ib, but with tumor on surface of one or both ovaries, or with capsule ruptured, or with ascites present containing malignant cells, or with positive peritoneal washings.
Growth involving one or both ovaries with pelvic extension.
Extension and/or metastases to the uterus and/or tubes.
Extension to other pelvic tissues.
Tumor either stage IIa or IIb, but with tumor on surface of one or both ovaries, or with capsule(s) ruptured, or with ascites present containing malignant cells, or with positive peritoneal washings.
Tumor involving one or both ovaries with histologically confirmed peritoneal implants outside the pelvis and/or positive regional lymph nodes. Superficial liver metastases equals stage III. Tumor is limited to the true pelvis, but with histologically proven malignant extension to small bowel or omentum.
Tumor grossly limited to the true pelvis, with negative nodes, but with histologically confirmed microscopic seeding of abdominal peritoneal surfaces, or histologic proven extension to small bowel or mesentery.
Tumor of one or both ovaries with histologically confirmed implants, peritoneal metastasis of abdominal peritoneal surfaces, none exceeding 2 cm in diameter; nodes are negative.
Peritoneal metastasis beyond the pelvis >2 cm in diameter and/or positive regional lymph nodes.
Growth involving one or both ovaries with distant metastases. If pleural effusion is present, there must be positive cytology to allot a case to stage IV. Parenchymal liver metastasis equals stage IV.
aAdapted from FIGO Committee on Gynecologic Oncology.
bIn order to evaluate the impact on prognosis of the different criteria for allotting cases to stage Ic or IIc, it would be of value to know if rupture of the capsule was spontaneous, or caused by the surgeon; and if the source of malignant cells detected was peritoneal washings, or ascites.
Hoskins WJ: Surgical staging and cytoreductive surgery of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer 71 (4 Suppl): 1534-40, 1993.
Makar AP, Kristensen GB, Børmer OP, et al.: CA 125 measured before second-look laparotomy is an independent prognostic factor for survival in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 45 (3): 323-8, 1992.
Berek JS, Knapp RC, Malkasian GD, et al.: CA 125 serum levels correlated with second-look operations among ovarian cancer patients. Obstet Gynecol 67 (5): 685-9, 1986.
Atack DB, Nisker JA, Allen HH, et al.: CA 125 surveillance and second-look laparotomy in ovarian carcinoma. Am J Obstet Gynecol 154 (2): 287-9, 1986.
FIGO Committee on Gynecologic Oncology: Current FIGO staging for cancer of the vagina, fallopian tube, ovary, and gestational trophoblastic neoplasia. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 105 (1): 3-4, 2009.
Ovary and primary peritoneal carcinoma. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 419-28.
In two large European trials, European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Adjuvant ChemoTherapy in Ovarian Neoplasm (EORTC-ACTION) and International Collaborative Ovarian Neoplasm (MRC-ICON1 [NCT00002477]), patients with stage IA and stage IB (grades II and III), all stage IC and stage II, and all stage I and stage IIA clear cell carcinoma were randomly assigned to adjuvant chemotherapy or observation. Data were reported individually and in pooled form.
The EORTC-ACTION trial required at least four cycles of carboplatin or cisplatin-based chemotherapy as treatment. Although surgical staging criteria were monitored, inadequate staging was not an exclusion criterion. Recurrence-free survival (RFS) was improved in the adjuvant chemotherapy arm (hazard ratio [HR], 0.63; P = .02), but overall survival (OS) was not affected (HR, 0.69; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.44–1.08; P = .10). OS was improved by chemotherapy in the subset of patients with inadequate surgical staging.
The MRC-ICON1 trial randomly assigned patients to six cycles of single-agent carboplatin or cisplatin or platinum-based chemotherapy (usually cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and cisplatin) versus observation and had similar entry criteria to the EORTC-ACTION trial; however, the MRC-ICON1 trial did not monitor whether adequate surgical staging was performed. Both RFS and OS were significantly improved; 5-year survival figures were 79% with adjuvant chemotherapy versus 70% without adjuvant chemotherapy.
The pooled data from both studies indicated significant improvement in RFS (HR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.50–0.82; P = .001) and OS (HR, 0.67; 95% CI, 0.50–0.90; P = .008). These pooled data provided for an OS at 5 years of 82% with chemotherapy and 74% with observation, with a 95% CI in the difference of 2% to 12%. An accompanying editorial emphasized that the focus of subsequent trials must be to identify patients who do not require additional therapy among the early ovarian cancer subset.[Level of evidence: 1iA] Optimal staging is one way to better identify these patients. Except for the most favorable subset (patients with stage IA well-differentiated disease), Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) trials, and the evidence above, which is based on double-blinded, randomized controlled trials with total mortality endpoints, support treatment with cisplatin, carboplatin, and paclitaxel (in the United States).
In future trials, the Ovarian Committee of the GOG has opted to include patients with stage II disease in advanced ovarian cancer trials and not to include further study of patients with stage I disease at this time.
Patients with stage II ovarian cancer were also enrolled in a Japanese Gynecology Oncology Group study (JGOG-3601 [NCT00226915]) that tested a weekly dosing schedule versus the conventional every-3-week dosing schedule in first-line ovarian cancer. These results are reviewed in the Stage III and Stage IV Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment section.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I ovarian epithelial cancer and stage II ovarian epithelial cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.
Young RC, Decker DG, Wharton JT, et al.: Staging laparotomy in early ovarian cancer. JAMA 250 (22): 3072-6, 1983.
Zanetta G, Chiari S, Rota S, et al.: Conservative surgery for stage I ovarian carcinoma in women of childbearing age. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 104 (9): 1030-5, 1997.
Ahmed FY, Wiltshaw E, A'Hern RP, et al.: Natural history and prognosis of untreated stage I epithelial ovarian carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 14 (11): 2968-75, 1996.
Monga M, Carmichael JA, Shelley WE, et al.: Surgery without adjuvant chemotherapy for early epithelial ovarian carcinoma after comprehensive surgical staging. Gynecol Oncol 43 (3): 195-7, 1991.
Kolomainen DF, A'Hern R, Coxon FY, et al.: Can patients with relapsed, previously untreated, stage I epithelial ovarian cancer be successfully treated with salvage therapy? J Clin Oncol 21 (16): 3113-8, 2003.
Vergote IB, Vergote-De Vos LN, Abeler VM, et al.: Randomized trial comparing cisplatin with radioactive phosphorus or whole-abdomen irradiation as adjuvant treatment of ovarian cancer. Cancer 69 (3): 741-9, 1992.
Piver MS, Lele SB, Bakshi S, et al.: Five and ten year estimated survival and disease-free rates after intraperitoneal chromic phosphate; stage I ovarian adenocarcinoma. Am J Clin Oncol 11 (5): 515-9, 1988.
Bolis G, Colombo N, Pecorelli S, et al.: Adjuvant treatment for early epithelial ovarian cancer: results of two randomised clinical trials comparing cisplatin to no further treatment or chromic phosphate (32P). G.I.C.O.G.: Gruppo Interregionale Collaborativo in Ginecologia Oncologica. Ann Oncol 6 (9): 887-93, 1995.
Piver MS, Malfetano J, Baker TR, et al.: Five-year survival for stage IC or stage I grade 3 epithelial ovarian cancer treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Gynecol Oncol 46 (3): 357-60, 1992.
McGuire WP: Early ovarian cancer: treat now, later or never? Ann Oncol 6 (9): 865-6, 1995.
Trimbos JB, Parmar M, Vergote I, et al.: International Collaborative Ovarian Neoplasm trial 1 and Adjuvant ChemoTherapy In Ovarian Neoplasm trial: two parallel randomized phase III trials of adjuvant chemotherapy in patients with early-stage ovarian carcinoma. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 105-12, 2003.
Trimbos JB, Vergote I, Bolis G, et al.: Impact of adjuvant chemotherapy and surgical staging in early-stage ovarian carcinoma: European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Adjuvant ChemoTherapy in Ovarian Neoplasm trial. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 113-25, 2003.
Colombo N, Guthrie D, Chiari S, et al.: International Collaborative Ovarian Neoplasm trial 1: a randomized trial of adjuvant chemotherapy in women with early-stage ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 125-32, 2003.
Young RC: Early-stage ovarian cancer: to treat or not to treat. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 94-5, 2003.
Katsumata N, Yasuda M, Takahashi F, et al.: Dose-dense paclitaxel once a week in combination with carboplatin every 3 weeks for advanced ovarian cancer: a phase 3, open-label, randomised controlled trial. Lancet 374 (9698): 1331-8, 2009.
Katsumata N, Yasuda M, Isonishi S, et al.: Long-term results of dose-dense paclitaxel and carboplatin versus conventional paclitaxel and carboplatin for treatment of advanced epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer (JGOG 3016): a randomised, controlled, open-label trial. Lancet Oncol 14 (10): 1020-6, 2013.
Scambia G, Salutari V, Amadio G: Controversy in treatment of advanced ovarian cancer. Lancet Oncol 14 (10): 920-1, 2013.
Treatment options for patients with all stages of ovarian epithelial cancer have consisted of surgery followed by chemotherapy.
Patients diagnosed with stage III and stage IV disease are treated with surgery and chemotherapy; however, the outcome is generally less favorable for patients with stage IV disease. The role of surgery for patients with stage IV disease is unclear, but in most instances, the bulk of the disease is intra-abdominal, and surgical procedures similar to those used in the management of patients with stage III disease are applied. The options for intraperitoneal (IP) regimens are also less likely to apply both practically (as far as inserting an IP catheter at the outset) and theoretically (aimed at destroying microscopic disease in the peritoneal cavity) in patients with stage IV disease.
Surgery has been used as a therapeutic modality and also to adequately stage the disease. Surgery should include total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral
salpingo-oophorectomy with omentectomy and debulking of as much gross tumor as
can safely be performed. While primary cytoreductive surgery may not correct
for biologic characteristics of the tumor, considerable evidence indicates that
the volume of disease left at the completion of the primary surgical procedure
is related to patient survival. A literature review showed that patients
with optimal cytoreduction had a median survival of 39 months compared with
survival of only 17 months in patients with suboptimal residual disease.[Level of evidence: 3iA]
Results of a retrospective analysis of 349 patients with postoperative
residual masses no larger than 1 cm suggested that patients who
present at the outset with large-volume disease and achieve small-volume disease by surgical
debulking have poorer outcomes than similar patients who present with
small-volume disease. Gradual
improvement in survival with decreasing residual tumor volume is likely. Although the association may not be causal, retrospective analyses, including a meta-analysis of patients receiving platinum-based chemotherapy, have found cytoreduction to be an independent prognostic variable for survival.
For the past 3 decades, the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) has conducted separate trials for women whose disease has been optimally cytoreduced (most recently defined as ≤1 cm residuum) and for those who had suboptimal cytoreductions (>1 cm residuum). The extent of residual disease following the initial surgery is a determinant of outcome in most series  and has been used in the design of clinical trials, particularly by the GOG.
On the basis of these findings, the standard treatment approaches are subdivided into the following:
A study led by the European Organization for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Gynecological Cancer Group, together with the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) Clinical Trials Group (EORTC-55971 [NCT00003636]) between 1998 and 2006 included 670 women with stage IIIC and IV ovarian, tubal, and primary peritoneal cancers. The women were randomly assigned to primary debulking surgery followed by at least six courses of platinum-based chemotherapy or to three courses of neoadjuvant platinum-based chemotherapy followed by so-called interval debulking surgery, and at least three more courses of platinum-based chemotherapy. Methods included efforts to ensure accuracy of diagnosis (vis-à-vis peritoneal carcinomatosis of gastrointestinal origin) and stratification by largest preoperative tumor size (excluding ovaries) (<5 cm, >5 cm–10 cm, >10 cm–20 cm, or >20 cm). Other stratification factors were for institution, method of biopsy (i.e., image-guided, laparoscopy, laparotomy, or fine-needle aspiration), and tumor stage (i.e., stages IIIC or IV). The primary endpoint of the study was overall survival (OS), with primary debulking surgery considered the standard.
Median OS for the primary debulking surgery was 29 months, compared with 30 months for patients assigned to neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The hazard ratio (HR) for death in the group assigned to neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by interval debulking, as compared with the group assigned to primary debulking surgery followed by chemotherapy, was 0.98 (90% confidence interval [CI], 0.84–1.13; P = .01 for noninferiority).[Level of evidence: 1iiA] Perioperative and postoperative morbidity and mortality were higher in the primary-surgery group (7.4% severe hemorrhage and 2.5% deaths, contrasting with 4.1% severe hemorrhage and 0.7% deaths in the neoadjuvant group). The strongest independent predictor of prolonged survival was the absence of residual tumor after surgery. The subset of patients achieving optimal cytoreduction (≤1 cm residuum) whether after primary debulking surgery or after neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by interval debulking surgery had the best median OS.
The pharmacologic basis for the delivery of anticancer drugs by the IP route was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When several drugs were studied, mostly in the setting of minimal residual disease at reassessment after patients had received their initial chemotherapy, cisplatin alone and in combination received the most attention. Favorable outcomes from IP cisplatin were most often seen when tumors had shown responsiveness to platinums and with small-volume tumors (usually defined as tumors <1 cm). In the 1990s, randomized trials were conducted to evaluate whether the IP route would prove superior to the IV route. IP cisplatin was the common denominator of these randomized trials.
The use of IP cisplatin as part of the initial up-front approach in patients with stage III optimally debulked ovarian cancer is supported principally by the results of three randomized clinical trials (SWOG-8501, GOG-0114, and GOG-0172). These studies tested the role of IP drugs (IP cisplatin in all three studies and IP paclitaxel in the last study) against the standard IV regimen. In the three studies, superior PFS and OS favoring the IP arm was documented. Specifically, the most recent study, GOG-0172, resulted in a median survival rate of 66 months for patients on the IP arm versus 50 months for patients who received IV administration of cisplatin and paclitaxel (P = .03).[Level of evidence:1iiA] Toxic effects were greater in the IP arm, contributed to in large part by the cisplatin dose per cycle (100 mg/m2) and by sensory neuropathy from the additional IP as well as from the IV administration of paclitaxel. The rate of completion of six cycles of treatment was also less frequent in the IP arm (42% vs. 83%) because of the toxic effects and catheter-related problems.
Notwithstanding these problems, IP therapy for patients with optimally debulked ovarian cancer is receiving wider adoption, and efforts are under way by the GOG to examine some modifications of the IP regimen used in GOG-0172 to improve its tolerability (e.g., to reduce by ≥25% the total 3-hour amount of cisplatin given; a shift from the less practical 24-hour IV administration of paclitaxel to a 3-hour IV administration). A Cochrane-sponsored meta-analysis of all randomized IP versus IV trials shows an HR of 0.79 for disease-free survival and 0.79 for OS, favoring the IP arms. In another meta-analysis of seven IP versus IV randomized trials that were conducted by Cancer Care of Ontario, the relative ratio (RR) of progression at 5 years based on the three trials that reported this endpoint was 0.91 (95% CI, 0.85–0.98) and the RR of death at 5 years based on six trials was 0.88 (95% CI, 0.81–0.95).
Several ongoing trials include an intermittent dosing arm comparing both intraperitoneal chemotherapy and conventional-schedule intravenous (IV) treatment in patients after both optimal and suboptimal cytoreduction. When these results are available, it will be easier to identify the patient populations that are best suited for intermittent dosing.
First-line treatment of ovarian cancer is cisplatin, given IV, or its second-generation analog, carboplatin, given either alone or in combination with other drugs. Clinical response rates from these drugs regularly exceed 60%, and median time-to-recurrence usually exceeds 1 year in this subset of suboptimally debulked women. Trials by various cooperative groups in the subsequent 2 decades addressed issues of optimal dose-intensity  for both cisplatin and carboplatin, schedule, and the equivalent results obtained with either of these platinum drugs, usually in combination with cyclophosphamide. With the introduction of the taxane paclitaxel, two trials confirmed the superiority of cisplatin combined with paclitaxel to the previous standard of cisplatin plus cyclophosphamide; however, two trials that compared the agent with either cisplatin or carboplatin as a single agent failed to confirm such superiority in all outcome parameters (i.e., response, time-to-progression, and survival) (see Table 2).
Nevertheless, for patients with ovarian cancer, the combination of cisplatin or carboplatin and paclitaxel has been used as the initial treatment (defined as induction chemotherapy) for several reasons:
Since the adoption of the platinum-plus-taxane combination as the standard nearly worldwide, clinical trials have demonstrated:
In this large study consisting of 84% to 87% of patients with the Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d’Obstétrique stage III disease, as expected, the extent of cytoreduction was an important prognostic factor in OS. Results of PFS in patients with residuum greater than 1cm, less than or equal to 1 cm, or microscopic were 13, 16, and 29 months, respectively; whereas for OS, the results were 33, 40, and 68 months, respectively.
A trial of the Japanese Gynecologic Oncology Group (JGOG-3601 [NCT00226915]) circumvented this treatment trend and included patients with stage II through stage IV disease in addition to the patients undergoing neoadjuvant therapy. With results initially published in 2009 and long-term results updated in 2013, the JGOG-3601 has stimulated a number of other trials that address weekly dosing schedules versus the conventional every-3-weeks (intermittent) dosing in first-line epithelial ovarian cancer. Conducted between 2003 and 2006, the Japanese trial accrued 637 patients and randomly assigned them to a range of six to nine cycles of the weekly (named "dose-dense") 80 mg/m2 of paclitaxel or to the usual intermittent schedule of paclitaxel at 180 mg/m2. Both regimens were given with carboplatin (area under the curve 6) in every-3-weeks cycles. With a primary endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS), an increase from 16 to 21 months in the PFS of the weekly paclitaxel-based regimen was sought.
The PFS surpassed expectations at the 1.5-year follow-up after cessation of treatment. The weekly regimen had a median PFS of 28.0 months (95% CI, 22.3–35.4 months), and the intermittent median PFS was 17.2 months (15.7–21.1; HR, 0.71), favoring the weekly regimen (P = .0015). The 3-year OS also favored the weekly regimen (P = .03). The 2013 updated results revealed unexpected median survival results for the weekly regimen (median OS, 8.3 years vs. 5.1 years; P = .040); the intermittent regimen results are also noteworthy relative to other clinical trials of weekly dosing schedules.
Other than ethnicity, this trial population differed from other studies in the following ways:
The value of interval cytoreductive surgery has been the subject of two large phase III trials. In the first study, performed by the EORTC, patients subjected to debulking after four cycles of cyclophosphamide and cisplatin (with additional cycles given later) had an improved survival rate compared with patients who completed six cycles of this chemotherapy without surgery.[Level of evidence: 1iiB] The GOG-0162 trial was designed to answer a very similar question but used the then-standard paclitaxel-plus-cisplatin regimen as the chemotherapy. This trial did not demonstrate any advantage from the use of interval cytoreductive surgery. The divergence of results may be caused by the efficacy of the chemotherapy obscuring any effects of interval cytoreduction, the wider use of maximal surgical effort at the time of diagnosis by U.S. gynecologic oncologists, or unknown factors. Although many patients with stage IV disease also undergo cytoreductive surgery at diagnosis, whether this improves survival has not been established.
No. of Patients
% Early Crossover
Progression-free Survival (mo)
Overall Survival (mo)
Paclitaxel (135 mg/m2, 24 h) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)
Cisplatin (100 mg/m2)
Paclitaxel (200 mg/m2, 24 h)
Paclitaxel (175 mg/m2, 3 h) and carboplatin AUC 6
Carboplatin AUC 6
Paclitaxel (175 mg/m2, 3 h) and carboplatin AUC 6
Cyclophosphamide (500 mg/m2) and doxorubicin (50 mg/m2) and cisplatin (50 mg/m2)
mg/m2) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)
Paclitaxel (175 mg/m2, 3 h) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)
Cyclophosphamide (750 mg/m2) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)
AUC = area under the curve.
aStatistically inferior result (P < .001–< .05).
Trials of consolidation and/or maintenance therapy have been carried out with drugs that contribute to the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer. Presently, not one of the treatments given after the initial platinum/paclitaxel induction has been shown to improve survival; these treatments include the following:
A GOG-178 study of 277 patients compared three doses versus twelve doses of monthly paclitaxel given every 4 weeks following a clinically defined complete response at the time of completion of platinum/paclitaxel induction. However, the study was stopped early because of a very significant difference in PFS (28 months vs. 21 months).[Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] Subsequent updates of this data have raised the possibility that a subset of patients with low CA 125 levels might show a survival benefit. A trial to confirm the value of maintenance with taxanes versus observation is being conducted by the GOG.
A smaller Italian study entered 200 patients over 7 years who were randomly assigned to either 12 similar courses of monthly paclitaxel or observation; patients were in clinical complete response (n = 95) or pathologic complete response (n = 105) after induction therapy at the time of their random assignment. Sensory neuropathy was the most prominent toxicity and was grade 2 in 21.3% of the patients and grade 3 in 6.7% of the patients. The median PFS for the maintenance paclitaxel arm was 34 months (95% CI, 20–43 months) and 30 months (95% CI, 17–53 months) for the observation arm. Neither PFS nor OS differences were significant.
An accompanying editorial points out the weaknesses of both studies in order to draw conclusions (both stopped early and were noninformative for survival endpoint). Also, although both studies addressed the issue of maintenance paclitaxel administered monthly, the patient populations differed. This was reflected by the considerably better outcome in both arms of the Italian study. Taken together, paclitaxel maintenance is of unproven value and requires validation by the ongoing and larger GOG-178 study cited above.
Two phase III trials (GOG-0218 [NCT00262847] and ICON 7 [NCT00483782]) have evaluated the role of bevacizumab in first-line therapy for ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers following surgical cytoreduction. Both trials showed a modest improvement in PFS when bevacizumab was added to initial chemotherapy and continued every 3 weeks for 16 and 12 additional cycles, respectively, as a maintenance phase.
GOG-0218 was a double blind, randomized, controlled trial that included 1,873 women with stage III or IV disease, all of whom received chemotherapy—carboplatin (AUC 6) and paclitaxel (175 mg/m2 for six cycles). Participants were randomly assigned to receive:
The women were enrolled with a primary endpoint of PFS; 40% of the patients had suboptimally resected stage III disease, and 26% had stage IV disease. There was no difference in PFS between the control group and the bevacizumab-initiation group. There was a statistically significant increase in PFS in the bevacizumab-throughout group when compared with the control group (14.1 vs. 10.3 months), with a HR of progression or death of 0.717 in the bevacizumab-throughout group (95% CI, 0.625–0.824; P < .001). Median OS was 39.3, 38.7, and 39.7 months for the control group, bevacizumab-initiation group, and the bevacizumab-throughout group, respectively. Quality of life was not different between the three groups. Hypertension grade 2 or greater was more common with bevacizumab than with the placebo. There were more treatment-related deaths in the bevacizumab-throughout arm (10 of 607, 2.3%) than in the control arm (6 of 601, 1.0%).[Level of evidence: 1iDiii]
ICON 7 randomly assigned 1,528 women after initial surgery to chemotherapy—carboplatin (AUC 5 or 6) plus paclitaxel (175 mg/m2 for six cycles)—or to chemotherapy plus bevacizumab (7.5 mg/kg for six cycles), followed by bevacizumab alone for an additional 12 cycles. The women were randomly assigned, and PFS was the main outcome measure; 9% of patients had early-stage, high-grade tumors, and 70% had stage IIIC or IV disease. Twenty-six percent had more than 1 cm of residual tumor prior to initiating chemotherapy. Median PFS was 17.3 months in the control group and 19 months in the bevacizumab group. HR for progression or death in the bevacizumab group was 0.81 (95% CI, 0.70–0.94; P= .004). Bevacizumab was associated with an increase in bleeding, hypertension (grade 2 or higher), thromboembolic events (grade 3 or higher), and gastrointestinal perforations. Grade 3 or greater adverse events were more common in the bevacizumab group. Quality of life was not different between the two groups.[Level of evidence: 1iiDiii]
A third trial, OCEANS (Ovarian Cancer Study Comparing Efficacy and Safety of Chemotherapy and Anti-Angiogenic Therapy in Platinum-Sensitive Recurrent Diseases [NCT00434642]), assessed the role of bevacizumab in the treatment of platinum-sensitive recurrences (see Table 3 for other trials in this setting). In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase III trial of chemotherapy (gemcitabine + carboplatin) with or without bevacizumab for recurrent epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal, or fallopian tube cancer, 242 patients were randomly assigned per arm. Median PFS for patients receiving bevacizumab was 12.4 months versus 8.4 months for those receiving a placebo. The effect of bevacizumab on HR to progression in patients assigned to the bevacizumab arm compared with placebo was 0.484 (95% CI, 0.388–0.605; P <.0001). Objective responses to chemotherapy were increased when combined with bevacizumab (78.5% vs. 57.4%; P < .0001).
In contrast to the first-line studies, treatment was allowed to continue beyond six cycles to ten cycles in responding patients, but there was no maintenance. A subsequent analysis will appear when additional survival data become mature; however, at the time of publication, differences in median survival were not apparent, and crossover from a placebo to bevacizumab had occurred in 31% of the patients. Bevacizumab-associated toxicities such as hypertension and proteinuria were more prominent than in the first-line trials, but feared safety issues, such as gastrointestinal perforations, did not occur during the study. Discontinuing treatment because of adverse events was more common with bevacizumab (n = 55 vs. n = 12 for placebo) but fewer patients discontinued treatment because of disease progression (n = 104 vs. n = 160 for placebo).[Level of evidence: 1iiDiii]
These three studies confirm the effect of improving PFS when bevacizumab is added to chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. In the OCEANS trial, the HR for progression was even more prominent than in the first-line trials, and a significant effect was seen when the bevacizumab and chemotherapy combination was extended beyond six cycles until progression. Without additional data, a statement about how bevacizumab should be used in ovarian cancer treatment is not possible because of the uncertain impact on OS, lack of clear delineation of who derives the greatest benefit, and prominent, associated toxicities.
At this time, the evidence does not support the use of bevacizumab as front-line therapy, because the gain in PFS comes with increased toxicity without improvement in OS or quality of life.
Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III ovarian epithelial cancer and stage IV ovarian epithelial cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
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Overall, approximately 80% of patients diagnosed with ovarian epithelial cancer will relapse after first-line platinum-based and taxane-based chemotherapy and may benefit from subsequent therapies. Early detection of persistent disease by second-look laparotomies after completing first-line treatment is no longer practiced; when the outcomes in the 50% of institutions practicing such procedures were informally compared with the outcomes in those institutions not using such procedures, additional lack of support for them grew, as was found in the case for patients entered in GOG-0158. However, the practice of close follow-up of patients completing treatment by serial CA 125s at intervals of 1 to 3 months was nearly universally adopted. In patients who are in clinical complete remission, increases in CA 125 from their initial treatment represent the most common method to detect disease that will eventually relapse clinically.
A trial by the Medical Research Council and European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (MRC-OV05, which is now closed) examined the consequences of early institution of treatment for recurrence versus treatment delayed until clinical symptoms appeared. Patients in clinical complete remission after platinum-based chemotherapy were registered and followed with CA 125s only and clinical visits. Upon detection of a twofold elevation over the normal range, patients were randomly assigned to disclosure of the result (and early treatment for recurrence) versus continued blinding and treatment upon development of signs and symptoms indicative of clinical relapse. The number of randomly assigned patients was to exceed 500 in order to yield a superior survival outcome at 2 years with early institution of therapy; this required 1,400 registrations, which were accrued between May 1996 and August 2005. Among 1,442 registrants, 29% continued to show no evidence of relapse, 19% relapsed without evidence of CA 125 doubling beyond normal or at the same time, and another 4% died prior to becoming eligible for random assignment. Registrants had stage III and stage IV disease in 67% of the cases, whereas these stages represented 80% of the randomly assigned patients. The median survival of all patients registered was 70.8 months.
Median survival for patients randomly assigned to early treatment (n = 265) was 25.7 months compared with 27.1 months for those patients in the delayed-treatment group (n = 264) (HR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.8–1.2). The median delay in instituting second-line chemotherapy was 4.8 months, and the median delay in instituting third-line chemotherapy was 4.6 months. Treatments for second-line chemotherapy were comparable among the two groups (mostly platinum- and taxane-based), whereas third-line treatments were less often applied to the delayed-treatment group. The study concluded that there was no benefit in the detection of early presence of disease by CA 125; this is consistent with the failure of second-look surgeries to provide improved outcomes after early detection of persistent disease. Monitoring CA 125 levels in follow-up may play a role in identifying appropriate candidates for secondary cytoreduction, although this strategy awaits confirmation with a randomized trial.
Cytoreduction is often employed, but such intervention only now is being studied in the setting of a randomized clinical trial (GOG-0213). The role of radiation therapy in patients with recurrent ovarian cancer has not been defined.
Systemic treatment options for patients with recurrent disease are subdivided as follows:
Comments on Outcome (mo)
Most Commonly Used
Platinum sensitive (>6)
Cisplatin or carboplatin + paclitaxel
Single or nontaxane + platinums
PFS 11 vs. 9; OS 24 vs. 19 
Carboplatin + gemcitabine
PFS 8.6 vs. 5.8; OS 18 vs. 17 
Platinum sensitive (> 6)
Carboplatin + pegylated liposomal doxorubicin
Carboplatin + paclitaxel
PFS 11.3 vs 9.4; OS not reported 
Carboplatin + epirubicin
Powered for response differences; OS 17 vs. 15 
Platinum sensitive (≥12)
Cisplatin + doxorubicin + cyclophosphamide
PFS 15.7 vs. 9; OS 34.7 vs. 25.8 
Platinum sensitive + resistant
PLD + trabectedina
PFS 7.3 vs. 5.8; OS 20.5 vs. 19.4b
OS = overall survival; PFS = progression-free survival; PLD = pegylated liposomal doxorubicin.
aTrabectedin has been approved for use in treating recurrent ovarian cancer in Europe and Canada.
bOS data were not mature at the time the manuscript was published.
Carboplatin was approved in 1987 for the treatment of patients with ovarian cancer whose disease recurred after treatment with cisplatin, based on improved survival with etoposide or 5-fluorouracil. In a randomized, phase II trial of paclitaxel, a currently used second-line drug, the cisplatin-containing combination of
cisplatin plus doxorubicin plus cyclophosphamide (CAP) yielded a superior survival outcome. This, and subsequent studies (see Table 3), have reinforced using carboplatin as the treatment core for patients with platinum-sensitive recurrences. Cisplatin is occasionally used, particularly in combination with other drugs, because of its lesser myelosuppression, but this advantage over carboplatin is counterbalanced by its greater intolerance. Oxaliplatin, initially introduced with the hope that it would overcome platinum resistance, has activity mostly in platinum-sensitive patients  but has not been compared with carboplatin alone or in combinations.
With all platinums, outcome is generally better the longer the initial interval without recurrence from the initial platinum-containing regimens. Therefore, on occasion, patients with platinum-sensitive recurrences relapsing within 1 year have been included in trials of nonplatinum drugs. In one such trial, comparing the pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (PLD) to topotecan, the subset of patients who were platinum sensitive had better outcomes with either drug (and in particular with PLD) relative to the platinum-resistant cohort.
Several randomized trials have addressed whether the use of a platinum in combination with other chemotherapy agents is superior to single agents (see Table 3). In an analysis of data examining jointly the results of three trials performed by the Medical Research Council/Arbeitsgemeinschaft Gynaekologische Onkologie (MRC/AGO) and ICON investigators (known as ICON-4), a platinum-plus-paclitaxel combination yielded a superior outcome, in terms of response rates, progression-free survival (PFS), and overall survival (OS), compared with carboplatin as a single agent or other platinum-containing combinations as controls. Platinum plus paclitaxel was compared with several control regimens, although 71% used carboplatin as a single agent in the control, and 80% used carboplatin plus paclitaxel. Prolonged PFS (HR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.66–0.89; P = .004) and OS (HR, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.69–0.97; P = .023) were improved in the platinum-plus-paclitaxel arm.; [Level of evidence: 1iiA] The AGO had previously compared the combination of epirubicin plus carboplatin to carboplatin alone and had not found significant differences in outcome.
Another trial by European and Canadian groups compared gemcitabine plus carboplatin to carboplatin. The PFS of 8.6 months with the combination was significantly superior to 5.8 months for the carboplatin alone (HR, 0.72; 95% CI, 0.58–0.90; P = .003). The study was not powered to detect significant differences in OS, and the median survival for both arms was 18 months (HR, 0.96; CI, 0.75–1.23; P = .73).
Carboplatin plus paclitaxel has been considered the standard regimen for platinum-sensitive recurrence in the absence of residual neurological toxic effects. The GOG-0213 trial is comparing this regimen to the experimental arm that adds bevacizumab to carboplatin plus paclitaxel.
In a phase III trial, carboplatin plus PLD (CD) was compared to carboplatin plus paclitaxel (CP) in patients with platinum-sensitive recurrence (>6 months). The primary endpoint was PFS with a median PFS for the CD arm of 11.3 months versus 9.4 months for the CP arm (HR, 0.823; 95% CI, 0.72–0.94; P = .005).[Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] The CP arm was associated with increased severe neutropenia, alopecia, neuropathy, and allergic reaction; the CD arm was associated with increased severe thrombocytopenia, nausea, and hand-foot syndrome. Although OS data have not been reported, given its toxicity profile and noninferiority to the standard regimen, CD is an important option for patients with platinum-sensitive recurrence.
Clinical recurrences that take place within 6 months of completion of a platinum-containing regimen are considered platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrences. Anthracyclines (particularly when formulated as PLD), taxanes, topotecan, and gemcitabine are used as single agents for these recurrences based on activity and their favorable therapeutic indices relative to agents listed in Table 4. The long list underscores the marginal benefit, if any, generally conveyed by these agents. Patients with platinum-resistant disease should be encouraged to enter clinical trials.
Treatment with paclitaxel historically provided the first agent with consistent activity in patients with platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrences. Subsequently, randomized studies have indicated that the use of topotecan achieved results that were comparable to those achieved with paclitaxel. Topotecan was compared with PLD in a randomized trial of 474 patients and demonstrated similar response rates, PFS, and OS at the time of the initial report, which was contributed primarily by the platinum-resistant subsets.
The combination of weekly topotecan and biweekly bevacizumab was evaluated in a phase II study that showed an objective response rate of 25% (all partial responses) in a platinum-resistant patient population. The most common grade 3 and grade 4 toxicities were hypertension, neutropenia, and gastrointestinal (GI) toxicity, though no bowel perforations occurred.
Liposomal doxorubicin and topotecan have been compared in a randomized trial of 474 patients with recurrent ovarian cancer. Response rates (19.7% vs. 17.0%; P = .390), PFS (16.1 wk vs. 17.0 wk; P = .095), and OS (60 wk vs. 56.7 wk; P = .341) did not differ significantly between the liposomal doxorubicin and topotecan arms, respectively.[Level of evidence: 1iiA] Survival was longer for the patients with platinum-sensitive disease who received liposomal doxorubicin.
A randomized trial of gemcitabine versus PLD showed noninferiority and no advantage in therapeutic index of one drug over the other.
In a phase III study, 235 patients who did not respond to initial treatment with a platinum-based regimen but who had not previously received paclitaxel or topotecan, were randomly assigned to receive either topotecan as a 30-minute infusion daily for 5 days every 21 days or paclitaxel as a 3-hour infusion every 21 days. The overall objective response rate was 20.5% for those patients who were randomly assigned to treatment with topotecan and 13.2% for those patients who were randomly assigned to treatment with paclitaxel (P = .138). Both groups experienced myelosuppression and GI toxic effects. Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and infection were observed more commonly following treatment with topotecan, whereas alopecia, arthralgia, myalgia, and neuropathy were observed more commonly following paclitaxel. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Gastrointestinal Complications for information on gastrointestinal toxic effects; refer to the PDQ summary on Nausea and Vomiting and the PDQ summary on Fatigue; and, refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for information on arthralgia, myalgia, and neuropathy.)
The first study (GOG-0170D) included 62 patients who had received only one or two prior treatments (these last patients had received one additional platinum-based regimen because of an initial interval of 12 months or greater after first-line regimens and also had to have a performance status of 0 or 1). Patients received a dose of 15 mg/kg every 21 days; there were two complete responses and 11 partial responses, a median PFS of 4.7 months, and an OS of 17 months. This activity was noted in both platinum-sensitive and platinum-resistant subsets.
The second study only included patients with platinum-resistant disease using an identical dose schedule, but the study was stopped because five of 44 patients experienced bowel perforations, one of them fatal; seven partial responses had been observed. This increased risk of bowel perforations was associated with three or more prior treatments.[Level of evidence: 3iiiDii]
The third study (CCC-PHII-45) included 70 patients who received 50 mg of oral cyclophosphamide daily, in addition to bevacizumab (10 mg/kg every 2 wk); 17 partial responses were observed and four patients had intestinal perforations.
A phase II study by the Gynecologic Oncology Group utilized pemetrexed (900 mg/m2) IV every 3 weeks in 51 patients with platinum-resistant recurrent disease. The response rate was 21% in a heavily pretreated population in which 39% five or more prior regimens . Myelosuppression and fatigue were the most common severe toxicities.
Other drugs used to treat platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrence
This group includes drugs that are not fully confirmed to have activity in a platinum-resistant setting, have a less desirable therapeutic index, and have a level of evidence lower than 3iiiDiv.
Topoisomerase II inhibitor
Oral; rare leukemia dampens interest
Cyclophosphamide and several other bischloroethylamines
Myelosuppression; alopecia (only the oxazaphosphorines)
Leukemia and cystitis; uncertain activity after platinums
Unknown but probably alkylating prodrugs
Emesis and neurotoxicity
Oral; uncertain activity after platinums
Topoisomerase I inhibitor
Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms
Cross-resistant to topotecan
Neuropathy, emesis, myelosuppression
Cross-resistant to usual platinums, but less so
Fluorouracil and capecitabine
Gastrointestinal symptoms and myelosuppression
Capecitabine is oral; may be useful in mucinous tumors
Oral; minimal activity, perhaps more in subsets
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
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This information was last updated on June 24, 2014.