Ovarian tumours

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Gross photo of a malignant ovarian tumour. (WC/Doc James)

The article examines ovarian tumours including ovarian cancer.

An introduction to the ovary is in the ovary article, which also deals benign cysts.

What was labeled "ovarian cancer" in the past may really arise from fallopian tube.[1] The label tubo-ovarian cancer has been advocated to address this change. These tumours are dealt with in this article.


Gynecologists use a scoring system to help decide which patients need surgery and estimate their pre-op risk of malignancy.

Risk of malignancy index

  • Abbreviated RMI.
  • There are two versions.[2]



Elements & points (RMI 2):[2]

  1. Ultrasound features.
    • Significant findings: multilocular cyst, solid component, bilateral lesions, ascites, suspected intra-abdominal metastases (one finding=1 point, two or more findings=4 points).
  2. Menopause/pre-menopause status (menopausal=4 points, pre-menopausal=1 point).
  3. CA-125 (blood test) in U/ml.


  • RMI > 200 -- predicts malignancy.


The Latta rule of fives

Can be divided as follows:[3][4]

  1. Surface epithelial tumours (most common).
  2. Sex cord stromal tumours (SCSTs).
  3. Germ cell tumours (GCTs).
  4. Metastatic tumours.
  5. Rare stuff that doesn't fit in any of the above (e.g. leiomyoma, angiosarcoma, ovarian small cell carcinoma of the hypercalcemic type).

Surface epithelial tumours:

  1. Serous carcinoma.
    • High-grade serous carcinoma. †
    • Low-grade serous carcinoma.
  2. Endometrioid carcinoma.
  3. Mucinous carcinoma.
  4. Clear cell carcinoma.
  5. Brenner tumour.


  • † Transitional cell tumours[5] are now grouped with high-grade serous carcinoma.[6][7]

Sex cord stromal tumours:

  1. Granulosa cell tumour (adult type, juvenile type).
  2. Sertoli cell tumour.
  3. Leydig cell tumour.
  4. Fibroma.
  5. Thecoma.

Germ cell tumours:

  1. Dysgerminoma.
  2. Endodermal sinus tumour (yolk sac tumour).
  3. Embryonal carcinoma.
  4. Choriocarcinoma.
  5. Teratoma.

Common special tumours

Endometriosis-related tumours

Tumours associated with endometriosis:[8]

  1. Endometrioid.
  2. Clear cell carcinoma.
  3. Endocervical mucinous (AKA Seroumucinous type and Muellerian type).

Solid ovarian tumours

Simple version: basically anything sex cord stromal.


  • Brenner tumour.
  • SCSTs:
    • Fibroma.
    • Thecoma.
    • Fibrothecoma.
    • Leydig tumour.
    • Sertoli cell tumour.
    • Sertoli-Leydig tumour.
    • Granulosa cell tumour.
    • Granulosa-theca cell tumour.

A morphologic approach

Where is the tumour arising?

  • Central location -- think GCTs and SCST.
  • Surface of ovary -- think surface epithelial tumour.
    • If no surface is apparent... possibly obliterated by tumour.

Spindle cell morphology?

  • Consider sex cord stromal tumours.

Nests of cells?

  • Consider Brenner tumour.

Gland-like structures?

  • Endometrioid carcinoma.
  • Granulosa cell tumour.

"Dirty necrosis":

  • Definition: cellular debris within gland lumen.[10]
  • Characteristic of colorectal adenocarcinoma, may be absent in ovarian tumours -- limited value.[11]

Grading of ovarian cancer

  • Silverberg grading system,[12] aka universal grading system.
  • Based on pattern, cytologic atypia and mitotic rate.
  • System somewhat similar to breast grading, which can be remembered as: TNM (tubular formation, nuclear atypia, mitotic rate).

Silverberg system

  • Pattern:
    • Glandular = 1.
    • Papillary = 2.
    • Solid = 3.
  • Cytologic atypia:
    • Slight = 1.
    • Moderate = 2.
    • Marked = 3.
  • Mitoses (see note below):
    • 0-9/(0.345 x10 mm^2) = 1.
    • 10-24/(0.345 x10 mm^2) = 2.
    • >=25/(0.345 x10 mm^2) = 3.

Composite score (pattern score + cytologic score + mitotic score):

  • Grade I = 3-5.
  • Grade II = 6-7.
  • Grade III = 8-9.


  • Most resident microscopes have an eyepiece diameter of 22 mm. Thus, the approximate field diameter is 0.55 mm (22 mm/40 X = 0.55 mm), at highest magnification, and the field area is 0.23758 mm^2 (pi*(0.55/2)^2=0.23758 mm^2).
  • The number of HPFs should be adjusted if the area per field is different than 0.345 mm^2.
    • If the field diameter is 0.55 mm and the sample area is 3.45 mm^2, this is equivalent to 14.52 HPFs (3.45 mm^2 / 0.23758 mm^2 = 14.52); thus, it would be appropriate to use 15 HPFs and the cut points above.

Predictive power of Silverberg grading

Good correlation with five year survival (rounded values):[13]

  • Grade I = 90%.
  • Grade II = 65%.
  • Grade III = 40%.

Peritoneal implants


Applies only to:


There are two types:[14]

  1. Non-invasive implants.
    • Subdivided into:
      1. Epithelial.
      2. Desmoplastic.
  2. Invasive implants -- malignant cells within the stroma.


  • Invasive implants are significant clinically.
  • Non-invasive implants have little clinical significance.


Non-invasive implant

Features (non-invasive implant epithelial-type):[15]

  • Papillary proliferation on surface.
  • +/-Smooth contoured invagination into:
    • Submesothelium.
    • Omental fat lobules.
  • No "stromal response":
    • Fibrosis.
  • +/-Psammoma bodies.

Features (non-invasive implant desmoplastic-type):[15]

  • Stromal reaction restricted to the:
    • Serosal surface.
    • Fibrous septae.
  • +/-Psammoma bodies.


  • No "destructive invasion".
    • Irregular infiltration.

Invasive implant

Features (invasive implant):[15]

  • Irregular infiltration of tumour into the submesothelial tissue - key feature - characterized by:
    • +/-Solid nests.
    • +/-Small glands +/- irregular "bridging" connections between glands - common.
  • Nuclear atypia - common.
  • +/-Psammoma bodies.


  • Elastin stain:[14]
    • Non-invasive implants are sit superficial to the peritoneal elastic lamina (PEL).
    • Invasive implants are deep to the PEL.


  • Elastin layer is not present in the omentum.


  • Elastin stain.

Staging of ovarian cancer

  • The CAP protocol talks of in the pelvis and outside the pelvis - pT2 versus pT3.
  • Omental involvement is considered outside the pelvis; it is pT3.[16]

Surface epithelial tumours

Most common subtypes - in short:[17]

  • Serous:
  • Endometrioid:
    • Tubular glands.
    • Squamous differentiation (eosinophilic cytoplasm, well-defined cell borders, +/-keratin).
  • Mucinous:
    • Tall columnar cells with mucin.
    • Glands with mucin.

Where to start when considering a malignant (epithelial) tumour of the ovary:

Features Serous Endometrioid Mucinous
Histology low grade: cilia, columnar cells, psammoma bodies, papillary arch.; high grade: marked nuclear pleomorphism, prominent red nucleoli, psammoma bodies gland forming - esp. cribriforming, endometrium-like mucinous glands, colon-like
Differentiators cilia, psammoma bodies squamous metaplasia mucin, often lack of necrosis
Associations atrophy endometriosis, endometrial hyperplasia (?)
Typical age usually 60s+ 40-60 varies (?)
Grade typically high grade typically low grade often low
IHC p53 +ve (diffuse), WT-1 +ve, CA-125 +ve, D2-40 +ve WT-1 -ve CK7 +ve, CK20 +ve (other tumours CK7 +ve, CK20 -ve)
Main DDx poorly diff. endometrioid serous metastatic tumour (usually GI)

Serous tumours - overview


  • Most common malignant ovarian tumour.


Based on features predictive of behaviour:[18]

  • Benign.
  • Borderline.
    • May have pseudostratification of epithelial cells.
    • "Usually, borderline if first impression is borderline."[19]
  • Malignant.
    • Cytologic atypia.
    • +/-Papillae.




  • In serous borderline tumours, micropapillae are thought to have significance -- assoc. with increased risk of distant recurrence[20][21][22] - though is disputed.[23]
  • Psammoma bodies may be seen in endosalpingiosis.[24]

Serous carcinoma of the ovary

Serous cystadenoma of the ovary

  • AKA ovarian serous cystadenoma.
  • Related to adenofibroma and serous cystadenofibroma.

Ovarian serous borderline tumour

  • AKA serous borderline tumour of the ovary.
  • AKA serous tumour of low malignant potential of the ovary, abbreviated SLMP.[25][26]

Mucinous ovarian tumours


  • Common.
  • Tumours may be heterogenous; benign appearing epithelium may be beside clearly malignant epithelium.
  • Good sampling of mucinous tumours, i.e. many blocks, is important to lessen the chance of undercalling them.


  1. Endocervical type.
    • Less likely to be malignant.
    • More common than malignant type.
  2. Intestinal type.
    • More likely to be malignant.
    • Goblet cells. (???)
      • One large clear apical vacuole.
    • If it doesn't look like intestine to you... it probably isn't.
    • May vaguely resemble colorectal adenocarcinoma (hyperchromatic, columnar nuclei, nuclear pleomorphism).

Comparison of mucosa:


  • Benign. (Dx: mucinous cystadenoma or mucinous adenofibroma or mucinous cystadenofibroma)
    • Single layer of cells.
  • Borderline. (Dx: mucinous tumour of uncertain malignant potential or borderline mucinous tumour)
    • Papillae.
  • Malignant. (Dx: mucinous adenocarcinoma)
    • Usually intestinal subtype.

Seromucinous borderline tumour of the ovary

  • AKA endocervical-type mucinous and mixed cell-type tumour.[27]



  • Mucin-filled cysts.




  1. Simple mucinous epithelium - endocervical type.[28]
    • Tall columnar epithelium with apical pale cytoplasm.
  2. Simple serous epithelium - with cilia.

Mucinous cystadenoma of the ovary

  • AKA ovarian mucinous cystadenoma.

Mucinous borderline tumour of the ovary

  • AKA ovarian mucinous borderline tumour.
  • AKA ovarian mucinous tumour of low malignant potential.[29]

Mucinous adenocarcinoma of the ovary

  • AKA ovarian mucinous adenocarcinoma.
  • AKA ovarian mucinous carcinoma.

Endometrioid carcinoma of the ovary

  • AKA endometrioid ovarian carcinoma.
  • AKA endometrioid adenocarcinoma of the ovary.
  • AKA ovarian endometrioid adenocarcinoma.

Clear cell carcinoma of the ovary

  • AKA ovarian clear cell adenocarcinoma, abbreviated OCCC.
  • AKA ovarian clear cell carcinoma.
  • AKA clear cell adenocarcinoma of the ovary.

Transitional cell carcinoma of the ovary

Brenner tumour

Germ cell tumours

These tumour are relatively uncommon, though are the most common grouping for young women.


  • Dysgerminoma (most common).
  • Yolk sac tumour (endodermal sinus tumour).
  • Embryonal carcinoma.
  • Choriocarcinoma.
  • Teratoma.
  • Mixed GCT - 60% of GCTs are mixed.
    • Common combinations:
      1. Teratoma + embryonal carcinoma + endodermal sinus tumour (yolk sac tumour) (TEE).
      2. Seminoma + embryonal (SE).
      3. Embryonal + teratoma (TE).

Mnemonic: SEE CT, S=Seminoma, Embryonal carcinoma, Endodermal Sinus Tumour, Choriocarcinoma, Teratoma.


  • May be benign or malignant.
  • Skin component only called "dermoid".




  • Most common GCT in females.
  • Prognosis usually good.



  • Fried egg appearance (clear cytoplasm, central nucleus).
  • Nuclear membrane has "corners", i.e. is "squared-off" - or "polygonal".
  • +/- Lymphocytes - often prominent.
  • +/- Granulomata.

Dysgerminoma vs lymphoma:

  • Dysgerminoma has "squared-off" nuclei,[31] i.e. the nuclei look are polygonal-shaped.


Details dealt with in the main article.



  • Immature germ cells resembling Sertoli cells or granulosa cells.
    • Cells with moderate cytoplasm is a trabecular or tubular architecture.
  • Primitive germ cells resemble those of a dysgerminoma.
    • Polygonal cells with a central nucleus, squared-off nuclear membrane and clear cytoplasm.
  • +/-Calcification (very common).

Metastatic ovarian tumours

Sex cord stromal tumours


  • Most are unilateral.[34]


  • Most are positive for alpha-inhibin.[34]
  • Most are positive for calretinin -- considered more sensitive than alpha-inhibin.[35]
  • Melan A +ve.
  • CD99 +ve.

Memory device MAC = melan A, alpha-inhibin, calretinin.

Sex cord tumour with annular tubules

  • Abbreviated SCTAT.
  • NOT sex cord tumour with angulated tubules.

Juvenile granulosa cell tumour

Adult granulosa cell tumour

Fibroma-thecoma group

  • Some say fibromas and thecomas are related,[36] while others believe they should be considered distinct entities.[37]
  • A combination of a fibroma and a thecoma is known as a fibrothecoma.


  • Some discourage the use of the term fibrothecoma and sugguest calling tumours in the fibroma-thecoma group fibroma unless there are lipid-laden cells and more than minimal alpha-inhibin positivity.[34]

Ovarian fibroma


Sertoli-Leydig cell tumour

  • AKA androblastoma.

Hilus cell tumour


  • Rare.[38]
  • May cause virilization.
    • Development of male (sexual) characteristics in a female.
  • Arise from hilus cells.


Features - see Leydig cell tumour:

  • Moderate eosinophilic cytoplasm.
  • +/-Reinke crystalloids (cytoplasmic inclusions).



See also


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  2. 2.0 2.1 URL: http://www.sign.ac.uk/guidelines/fulltext/75/section3.html. Accessed on: 16 September 2011.
  3. Cotran, Ramzi S.; Kumar, Vinay; Fausto, Nelson; Nelso Fausto; Robbins, Stanley L.; Abbas, Abul K. (2005). Robbins and Cotran pathologic basis of disease (7th ed.). St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier Saunders. pp. 1093. ISBN 0-7216-0187-1.
  4. LAE. 22 October 2009.
  5. Humphrey, Peter A; Dehner, Louis P; Pfeifer, John D (2008). The Washington Manual of Surgical Pathology (1st ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 401. ISBN 978-0781765275.
  6. Takeuchi, T.; Ohishi, Y.; Imamura, H.; Aman, M.; Shida, K.; Kobayashi, H.; Kato, K.; Oda, Y. (Jul 2013). "Ovarian transitional cell carcinoma represents a poorly differentiated form of high-grade serous or endometrioid adenocarcinoma.". Am J Surg Pathol 37 (7): 1091-9. doi:10.1097/PAS.0b013e3182834d41. PMID 23681072.
  7. Ali, RH.; Seidman, JD.; Luk, M.; Kalloger, S.; Gilks, CB. (Nov 2012). "Transitional cell carcinoma of the ovary is related to high-grade serous carcinoma and is distinct from malignant brenner tumor.". Int J Gynecol Pathol 31 (6): 499-506. doi:10.1097/PGP.0b013e31824d7445. PMID 23018212.
  8. LAE. 22 October 2009.
  9. NEED REF.
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  11. DeCostanzo DC, Elias JM, Chumas JC (July 1997). "Necrosis in 84 ovarian carcinomas: a morphologic study of primary versus metastatic colonic carcinoma with a selective immunohistochemical analysis of cytokeratin subtypes and carcinoembryonic antigen". Int. J. Gynecol. Pathol. 16 (3): 245–9. PMID 9421090.
  12. Silverberg SG (January 2000). "Histopathologic grading of ovarian carcinoma: a review and proposal". Int. J. Gynecol. Pathol. 19 (1): 7-15. PMID 10638449. http://meta.wkhealth.com/pt/pt-core/template-journal/lwwgateway/media/landingpage.htm?issn=0277-1691&volume=19&issue=1&spage=7.
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  19. LAE. 19 February 2009.
  20. LAE. 19 February 2009.
  21. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15897738. Accessed on: 7 April 2011.
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