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This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Incidence and Mortality
Tumors of low malignant potential (i.e., borderline tumors) account for 15% of all epithelial ovarian cancers. Nearly 75% of these tumors are stage I at the time of diagnosis. These tumors must be recognized because their prognosis and treatment is clearly different from the frankly malignant invasive carcinomas.
A review of 22 series (953 patients) with a mean follow-up of 7 years revealed a survival rate of 92% for patients with advanced-stage tumors, if patients with so-called invasive implants were excluded. The cause of death was determined to be benign complications of disease (e.g., small bowel obstruction), complications of therapy, and only rarely (0.7%), malignant transformation. In one series, the 5-, 10-, 15-, and 20-year survival rates of patients with low malignant potential tumors (all stages), as demonstrated by clinical life table analysis, were 97%, 95%, 92%, and 89%, respectively. In this series, mortality was stage dependent: 0.7%, 4.2%, and 26.8% of patients with stages I, II, and III, respectively, died of disease. Another large study showed early stage, serous histology, and younger age to be associated with a more favorable prognosis. In contrast to the excellent survival rates for early-stage disease reported above, the Federation Internationale de Gynecologie et d'Obstetrique Annual Report (#21) included 529 patients with stage I tumors with a 5-year actuarial survival rate of 89.1%. Similarly, good survival was found in a large prospective study. Nonetheless, these survival rates are clearly in contrast with the 30% survival rate for invasive tumors (all stages).
The less common endometrioid tumor of low malignant potential should not be regarded as malignant because it seldom, if ever, metastasizes. Malignant transformation can, however, occur and may be associated with a similar tumor outside of the ovary; such tumors are the result of either a second primary or rupture of the primary endometrial tumor.
The Fédération Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique (FIGO) Staging
FIGO and the American Joint Committee on Cancer have designated staging to define ovarian low malignant potential tumors; the FIGO system is most commonly used.[1,2]
The value of complete staging has not been demonstrated for early-stage cases, but the opposite ovary should be carefully evaluated for evidence of bilateral disease. Although the impact of surgical staging on therapeutic management is not defined, in a study, 7 of 27 patients with presumed localized disease were upstaged following complete surgical staging. In two other studies, 16% and 18% of patients with presumed localized tumors of low malignant potential were upstaged as a result of a staging laparotomy.[2,3] In one of these studies, the yield for serous tumors was 30.8% compared with 0% for mucinous tumors. In another study, patients with localized intraperitoneal disease and negative lymph nodes had a low incidence of recurrence (5%), whereas patients with localized intraperitoneal disease and positive lymph nodes had a statistically significantly higher incidence of recurrence (50%).
In early-stage disease (stage I or II), no additional treatment is indicated for a completely resected tumor of low malignant potential. When a patient wishes to retain childbearing potential, a unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is adequate therapy.[7,8] In the presence of bilateral ovarian cystic neoplasms, or a single ovary, a partial oophorectomy can be employed when fertility is desired by the patient. Some physicians stress the importance of limiting ovarian cystectomy to stage IA patients in whom the margins of the cystectomy specimens are free of tumor. In a large series, the relapse rate was higher with more conservative surgery (cystectomy > unilateral oophorectomy > TAH, BSO); differences, however, were not statistically significant, and survival was nearly 100% for all groups.[5,10] When childbearing is not a consideration, a total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is appropriate therapy. Once a woman has completed her family, most, but not all, physicians favor removal of remaining ovarian tissue as it is at risk of recurrence of a borderline tumor, or even rarely, a carcinoma.[2,7]
Current Clinical Trials
Use our advanced clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now enrolling patients. The search can be narrowed by location of the trial, type of treatment, name of the drug, and other criteria. General information about clinical trials is also available.
Patients with advanced disease should undergo a total hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, omentectomy, node sampling, and aggressive cytoreductive surgery. Patients with stage III or IV disease with no gross residual tumor have had a 100% survival rate in some series regardless of the follow-up duration.[1,2] The 7-year survival rate of patients with gross residual disease was only 69% in a large series  and appears to be inversely proportional to the length of follow-up.
For patients with more advanced-stage disease and microscopic or gross residual disease, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are not indicated. Scant evidence exists that postoperative chemotherapy or radiation therapy alters the course of this disease in any beneficial way.[1,3,4,5,6] In a study of 364 patients without residual tumor, adjuvant therapy had no effect on disease-free or corrected survival when stratified for disease stage. Patients without residual tumor who received no adjuvant treatment had a survival rate equal to or greater than the treated groups. Currently, no controlled studies have compared postoperative treatment with no treatment.
In a review of 150 patients with borderline ovarian tumors, the survival of patients with a residual tumor of less than 2 cm was significantly better than survival for those with a residual tumor from 2 to 5 cm and more than 5 cm. Whether invasive implants imply a worse prognosis remains an unsettled question. Some investigators have correlated invasive implants with poor prognosis,  while others have not.[2,10] Some studies have suggested that it may be possible to use DNA ploidy of the tumors to identify those patients who will develop aggressive disease.[11,12] A study could not correlate DNA ploidy of the primary serous tumor with survival but found that aneuploid invasive implants were associated with a poor prognosis. Currently, no evidence indicates that treatment of patients with aneuploid tumors would have an impact on survival. No significant association was found between p53 and HER-2/neu overexpression and tumor recurrence or survival.
In the face of clinical progression, further tumor reductive surgery followed by chemotherapy is certainly indicated. If the symptom-free interval is long, using chemotherapy after a secondary cytoreductive procedure is not advisable. If, on the other hand, the disease symptomatically recurs rapidly, chemotherapy may be beneficial. Reports have surgically documented the efficacy of chemotherapy on some patients with microscopic or gross residual disease.[15,16] A Gynecologic Oncology Group study used melphalan chemotherapy for patients with progressive disease and used cisplatin for melphalan failures.
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Stage Information for Ovarian Low Malignant Potential Tumors
Added Berek et al. as reference 1.
This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of ovarian low-malignant potential tumors. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians in the care of their patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Reviewers and Updates
This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:
Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.
The lead reviewers for Ovarian Low Malignant Potential Tumors Treatment are:
Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.
Levels of Evidence
Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.
Permission to Use This Summary
PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary]."
The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Ovarian Low Malignant Potential Tumors Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/hp/ovarian-low-malignant-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389466]
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Last Revised: 2021-12-22
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