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Staging is the process of finding out how far the cancer has spread (metastasized). This is very important because ovarian cancers at different stages are treated differently. Once a stage has been assigned, it doesn’t change, even if the cancer spreads to other places in the body or comes back later. Staging is usually done during surgery.

One of the goals of surgery for ovarian cancer is to get tissue samples for staging. Samples of tissues are taken from different parts of the pelvis and belly (abdomen) and looked under the microscope.

Ovarian cancer is staged most often with the FIGO system. This system describes the cancer in terms of the extent of the tumor (T), whether or not it has spread to nearby lymph nodes (N), and whether it has spread to organs farther away − metastasized (M).

The actual stage is expressed as a Roman numeral from 1 (I) to 4 (IV), with many stages divided into substages indicated by additional letters and numbers. As a rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer.

Last Medical Review: 08/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/03/2016