Ovarian serous borderline tumors: a critical review of the literature with emphasis on prognostic indicators

J D Seidman, R J Kurman
Human Pathology 2000, 31 (5): 539-57

BACKGROUND: The behavior of ovarian serous borderline tumors (SBTs) and significance of various prognostic factors are unclear and difficult to evaluate because of inconsistencies and confusion in the literature. Recent studies have suggested that the morphological features of the primary tumor (presence or absence of micropapillary features) and the peritoneal "implants" (presence or absence of invasive features) can reliably subclassify SBTs into benign and malignant types. The aim of the current review was to test two hypotheses. First, that the alleged malignant behavior of SBTs is poorly documented, and second, that the morphological features of the primary ovarian tumors and the associated peritoneal implants are sufficient to separate SBTs into benign and malignant types, thereby obviating the need for the category.

METHODS: 245 studies reporting approximately 18,000 patients with borderline ovarian tumors were reviewed. After excluding series that lacked clinical follow-up or were not analyzable for other reasons, there remained 97 reports that included 4,129 patients. In addition to recurrences and survival, we evaluated the type of peritoneal implants, microinvasion, lymph node involvement, late recurrences, and progression to carcinoma, as these features have served as the underpinning of the concept of "borderline malignancy" or "low malignant potential."

RESULTS: Among 4,129 patients with SBTs reviewed, the recurrence rate after a mean follow-up of 6.7 years was 0.27% per year for stage I tumors, the disease-free survival was 98.2%, and the overall disease-specific survival rate was 99.5%. For patients with advanced-stage tumors, the recurrence rate was 2.4% per year. However, the majority (69%) of reported recurrences were not pathologically documented, and only 26 cases (8.4% of all recurrences) were documented to have recurred from an adequately sampled ovarian tumor. The most reliable prognostic indicator for advanced stage tumors was the type of peritoneal implant. After 7.4 years of follow-up, the survival of patients with noninvasive peritoneal inplants was 95.3%, as compared with 66% for invasive implants (P < .0001). Microinvasion in the primary ovarian tumor was associated with a 100% survival rate at 6.7 years, and lymph node involvement was associated with a 98% survival rate at 6.5 years. The few reported cases of stage IV disease, progression to invasive carcinoma, and very late (>20 years) recurrences were poorly documented. The survival for all stages among approximately 373 patients in 6 prospective randomized trials followed for a mean of 6.7 years was 100%.

CONCLUSION: Surgical pathological stage and subclassification of extraovarian disease into invasive and noninvasive implants are the most important prognostic indicators for SBTs. Survival for stage I tumors is virtually 100%. Survival for advanced stage tumors with noninvasive implants is 95.3%, whereas survival for tumors with invasive implants is 66%. Invasive implants behave as carcinomas and are most likely metastatic. The precise nature of so-called noninvasive implants is not clear, but they behave in a benign fashion. The presence of a micropapillary architecture in the primary ovarian tumor is a strong predictor of invasive implants. These data support the recommendation that ovarian tumors with a micropapillary architecture be designated "micropapillary serous carcinomas," and those lacking these features, "atypical proliferative serous tumors."

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