Background: The search for methods of early detection of ovarian carcinoma in recent years has emphasized the lack of information regarding the histologic features of early carcinoma or its precursor lesions; few examples of early de novo ovarian carcinoma have been reported.
Methods: The clinicopathologic features of 14 cases of early ovarian carcinoma detected as microscopic findings in grossly normal ovaries retrieved from a consultation practice and the files of the Massachusetts General Hospital were reviewed.
Results: The patients ranged in age from 27-65 years (mean, 50 years). Three women had a family history of ovarian carcinoma and six did not. The tumors ranged from microscopic to 7 mm in greatest dimension; all were unilateral and four were multifocal. One tumor involved the surface and its crypts; four, the surface and superficial cortex; eight, the superficial cortex only; and in one, surface involvement was not ascertainable. Ten carcinomas were serous; one, endometrioid; one, clear cell; and two, poorly differentiated, of undetermined cell type. Severe atypia of the noncarcinomatous surface epithelium or its inclusion cysts was additionally present in three cases. Among the seven patients whose diagnoses were made at the time of oophorectomy who had follow-up data of at least 2 years or until recurrence or death, five were alive without recurrences, one was alive with recurrence, and one died of tumor. Two of the three women died whose ovarian tumors were diagnosed retrospectively on discovery of subsequent peritoneal carcinomatosis, and the third was alive with recurrent tumor. No relation between any clinical or pathologic feature and survival was apparent in this small series except for a suggestion that well differentiated tumors had a good prognosis.
Conclusions: These findings document that at least a subset of ovarian epithelial cancers develops de novo. The guarded prognosis associated with these tumors despite their minute dimensions raises questions about the value of current screening techniques for early detection of ovarian cancer.