Your Questions, Answered: What is the Prognosis for a Low Malignant Potential Ovarian Tumor?

Borderline ovarian tumors represent a small subset of epithelial ovarian tumors. Because it’s an uncommon and unfamiliar diagnosis, it’s often misunderstood.

A carcinoma is a word used to describe any cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs, such as the ovaries. Epithelial carcinoma of the ovary is one of the more common gynecologic carcinomas, arising from the epithelial cells of the ovary. Epithelial cells are cells that line hollow organs and glands and those that make up the outer surface of the body. Borderline tumors of the ovary, more frequently termed "low malignant potential ovarian tumors," are not actually considered carcinomas because the cells do not appear to be invasive under the microscope, as we would see with an ovarian cancer.

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One way to think of this is to imagine ovarian tumors along a spectrum, with a benign ovarian tumor on one end and an actual ovarian cancer on the other end of the spectrum. Borderline ovarian tumors are in the middle, with some clinical and microscopic characteristics appearing like a carcinoma (more aggressive than a benign cyst), but with no evidence of invasive cancer.

Additionally, these lesions typically afflict women at a much younger age than invasive ovarian cancer, behave in a more indolent manner and have a much more favorable prognosis.

Prognosis and Treatment

Overall, these tumors have an excellent prognosis with surgery alone, particularly if the tumor is confined to the ovary (stage I). The prognosis is much better than ovarian cancer, and the overall survival for stage I disease is likely better than 97 percent. Chemotherapy is rarely used, and only if certain microscopic features predict a higher risk of recurrence. For that reason, it's a good idea to have the pathology reviewed by a pathologist with experience in gynecologic tumors. Although the recurrence risk is low, many experts would also recommend removing the other ovary, along with a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), depending on the age of the patient, and desire for preserved fertility.

If you want to learn more about low malignant potential ovarian tumors, the website of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a useful, patient resource.