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Ovarian Metastases in Colorectal Cancer

Omranipour, Ramesh; Abasahl, Abolghasem

International Journal of Gynecological Cancer: December 2009 - Volume 19 - Issue 9 - p 1524-1528
doi: 10.1111/IGC.0b013e3181a84011
Ovarian Cancer

Purpose: The aims of this study were to determine the incidence, clinicopathologic features, and prognostic factors of ovarian involvement in primary colorectal cancer (CRC) and also to clear the role of prophylactic oophorectomy.

Methods: Data from women with primary CRC treated between 1990 and 2004 were retrieved, and clinical and pathologic features of those who had undergone oophorectomy during CRC surgery were reviewed.

Results: One hundred eighty cases (mean age, 48 years) were included. In 120 cases, ovaries were preserved, and 60 cases underwent bilateral oophorectomy in addition to primary CRC resection. Reasons for oophorectomy were prophylactic in 22 (36.6%), abnormal morphology in 35 (58.3%), and undetermined in 3 cases (5%). There were 5 metastatic carcinomas, 8 primary ovarian tumors, and 47 normal ovaries in the pathologic evaluation. No complication directly related to oophorectomy was noted. Patients with ovarian metastases had higher stages of tumor. Ovarian metastases were not related to menstrual status, CRC location, size, differentiation, and mucin production, as well as abnormal morphology of the ovary. The global prevalence of ovarian metastases in CRCs was 2.7%, and isolated ovarian metastases occurred in fewer than half of them. Of 120 women who underwent colectomy alone, 8 (6.6%) developed ovarian metastasis during 2 years of follow-up. Only 3 cases had isolated ovarian metastases. No patient with synchronous or metachronous ovarian metastases from CRC survived 5 years.

Conclusions: Isolated ovarian metastases from primary CRC occur with a low frequency, and this may partially explain the debate regarding prophylactic oophorectomy at the time of curative resection for primary CRC.

Department of Surgical Oncology, Cancer Institute, Emam Khomeini Hospital, Tehran University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Ramesh Omranipour, Cancer Research Center of the Cancer Institute of Iran, Emam Khomeini Hospital, Keshavarz Blvd, Tehran, Iran. E-mail:

Incidence of ovarian metastasis from colorectal cancer (CRC) varies from 4% to 30.8% in various clinical studies.1

Between 6% and 14% of women dying with CRC are found at autopsy to have ovarian metastases.2 Less than 5% of the patients with CRC are reported to develop metachronous ovarian metastases within 2 years from primary resection.3

In case of direct invasion of the contiguous ovary from the CRC (pT4) or isolated macroscopic metastases, oophorectomy can be performed with a curative aim and the radical resection of ovaries was described to improve the overall survival.3,4

The objectives of removing macroscopically normal ovaries in a woman with primary CRC are to abolish the risk of primary ovarian cancer, to improve CRC cure rate by removing microscopic synchronous metastases, and to prevent development of metachronous ovarian metastases.

Routine oophorectomy in CRC had been suggested by Schenk and Sitzenfrey5 in 1907; however, there is no prospective randomized trial with high statistical power on the role of prophylactic oophorectomy during surgery for CRC; consequently, there is no consensus about oophorectomy during surgery for CRC.

The aims of this study were to find out the true incidence of synchronous and metachronous ovarian metastases in our patients with CRC and to define the clinicopathologic feature of ovarian involvement to clear the role of prophylactic oophorectomy.

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The data from 180 women who were operated on for CRC since 1990 to 2004 in the Cancer Institute of Tehran University of Medical Science were retrospectively retrieved and analyzed.

All women who underwent radical surgery were included, regardless of the type of operation, and patients who were considered inoperable and had not undergone colectomy were excluded.

Patients who presented with direct CRC invasion of the ovary and who had a history of previous oophorectomy were also excluded.

The Cancer Research Center of the Cancer Institute of Iran approved this project on March 2005.

Clinical data were retrieved from medical records, and clinical features were recorded including age, menstruation status, presenting symptoms, preoperative ultrasound and computed tomographic findings, preoperative carcinoembryonic antigen levels, primary tumor location, tumor differentiation, additional site of tumor involvement, and ovary morphology including size and surface abnormality.

The reason for oophorectomy were retrieved from the surgeon's note. It was classified as prophylactic, ovarian abnormality, and undetermined.

Data of at least 3 years of follow-up were retrieved from our outpatient clinics' records.

The features of cases with ovarian involvement (synchronous and metachronous) were compared with those of cases with normal ovaries in the pathologic study.

Statistical analysis was done using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 11.5). The study of the relationships between variables was performed using χ 2 test, and a significance level of 0.05 was applied.

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Of the 180 women with CRC treated in our center (mean age, 47.5 years; range, 17-86 years), 60 women underwent oophorectomy along with large bowel resection according to the surgeon's preference. The reasons for oophorectomy are the following: prophylactic (n = 22, 36.6%), abnormal morphology (n = 35, 58.3%), and undetermined (n = 3, 5%).

No complication directly related to the oophorectomy was reported. Five patients had histologically proven ovarian involvement. Thus, the incidence of synchronous ovarian metastases was 2.7% (5 of 180) in this study. Eight patients had primary ovarian tumor including 2 hemorrhagic cysts, 1 dermoid cyst, 1 fibroma, and 4 serous cystadenoma. The remaining 47 patients had normal ovaries in the pathologic evaluation. There was no relation between abnormal morphology and metastatic involvement of the ovary in this study (P = 0.239).

Of the 120 women who underwent only colectomy, 8 developed metastasis to the ovary during the follow-up period. The mean time to presentation of metachronous ovarian metastasis was 14 months (range, 10-24 months).

The clinical features of all the patients with ovarian metastasis (synchronous and metachronous) are presented in Table 1.



The features of these patients were compared with patients who had nonmetastatic ovary in the pathologic study.

The mean age in the ovarian involvement group was 45 years, and most of them (n = 9, 69.23%) were premenopausal, whereas the mean age in the nonmetastatic group was 50.9, and half (n = 27, 50%) of them were premenopausal.

The most common presenting symptom in the ovarian involvement group was mass. However, in the nonmetastatic group, it was rectorrhagia.

Oophorectomy was mostly performed in rectal and rectosigmoid cancers. Only 3 patients in the nonmetastatic group and 1 patient in the ovarian involvement group had right and transverse colon cancers.

Most tumors in both groups were moderately to poorly differentiated. There was no correlation between ovarian metastases and tumor location and differentiation (P = 0.067 and P = 0.545 respectively). Preoperative carcinoembryonic antigen was elevated in all patients with ovarian involvement, but we could not find the level of this marker in most of the others.

In the ovarian involvement group, 9 patients (69.23%) had transmural extension of their colorectal tumor. Patients with ovarian metastasis had a higher stage of tumor compared with those without ovarian metastasis.

The survival of patients with ovarian metastasis was very poor. The survival of patients with metachronous metastases seems longer (mean 20 months) than that of those with synchronous metastases (mean, 10 months).

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The true incidence of ovarian metastasis from CRC is unclear because the reported incidence varies from 0% to 30%, depending on autopsy data or clinical series.2,6-8 It varies from 5% to 31% in autopsy data and 0% to 8.6% in clinical series. Some of these clinical series are mentioned in Table 2. The mean incidence seems to be 3.5%.



In this study, the true incidence of synchronous and metachronous ovarian metastases was very low (2.7% and 6.6%, respectively).

Isolated ovarian metastases from primary CRC occurred in 3.3% of women undergoing colorectal resection. The mechanism of ovarian metastasis is uncertain.

Hematogenous spread is likely to be the main mechanism, although lymphatic dissemination has also been proposed.9

Transcoelomic spread was supported by synchronized involvement of the peritoneum in many cases of ovarian metastasis.10 However, deep location of metastatic tumor in the ovary makes transcoelomic spread unlikely.11

The high incidences of peritoneal disease (5 of 13), transmural tumor extension (9 of 13), and lymphatic disease (8 of 13) in our patients suggest that lymphatic pathway and direct peritoneal dissemination may serve as important mechanisms of ovarian involvement in CRC.

The influence of age and menstrual status on ovarian involvement is unclear. Several studies12-14 have demonstrated a higher relative frequency of ovarian metastasis in premenopausal women; some other studies15,16 have refuted the association between young age and ovarian metastases; they have reported that most women with ovarian metastases were postmenopausal.

In this study, the median age at diagnosis of ovarian metastasis was 41 years, and it seems that premenopausal women are relatively more commonly affected, but there was no correlation between menopausal status and ovarian involvement (P = 0.629).

It has been shown10,12,17-20 that differentiation of the primary colorectal tumor is not a risk factor for the development of ovarian metastasis. In this study, we got the same result (P = 0.545).

In addition, like other studies,10,12,13,18-21 there was no correlation between size and anatomic site of primary CRC and ovarian metastasis (P = 0.067). In fact, spread to the ovaries occurs from all parts of the large bowel in proportion to the natural frequency of the primary tumor.

In this study, oophorectomy was performed most commonly in women with cancer of the rectum and rectosigmoid, and this could be explained by a surgeon's trend to do prophylactic oophorectomy in rectal and sigmoid cancers.

Most CRCs with ovarian metastasis are Dukes B or more advanced.13,17,18,20,22

In this study, in the women with ovarian metastasis, the primary tumor extended through the bowel wall in 69.23% of the patients, and nodal disease was present in 61.53%. Peritoneal seeding and liver metastasis were presented in 38.46% and 15.38%, respectively.

It have been demonstrated11,18,23,24 that in one third to one half of ovarian metastasis from CRC, gross inspection of the ovaries may not reveal the presence of implants, the abnormality would be missed at operation, and only histologic examination may confirm the diagnosis.

In our study, oophorectomy was done because of morphologic abnormality of the ovaries in 35 cases, but only 8 primary ovarian tumors and 5 metastatic ovarian tumors were found.

Prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy was performed in 22 women in our series, and no one had an abnormality in the histologic examination. Several studies have been published about the role of prophylactic oophorectomy during CRC surgery.9,23-25

Although sample size and the statistical power of our study were small, we do not support prophylactic oophorectomy in our patients because we found the true incidence of synchronous and metachronous ovarian metastases to be very low.

It has been demonstrated that even if bilateral prophylactic oophorectomy had been performed, long-term survival is not affected24,26 and macroscopic metastatic disease to the ovaries is a poor prognostic factor in CRC.16

In this study, survival of patients with ovarian metastasis was disappointing. The survival of patients with metachronous metastasis seems longer than that of those with synchronous metastasis, but because of the very small sample size, it is not possible to compare the outcome of the 2 groups.

Two other studies that compared survivals in synchronous and metachronous ovarian metastases have contradictory conclusions.21,27

No patient with ovarian metastases in our study survived 5 years. Long-term survival has been reported relatively rarely in the literature. Miller et al16 reported one 5-year survivor (4.3%), whereas MacKeigam and Ferguson18 described 1 patient who was alive 10 years after diagnosis. Moreover, Wright et al28 reported 1 patient who was alive 8.9 years after diagnosis.

Blamey et al29 reported a 5-year cancer-specific survival rate of 50% in 25 patients with colon cancer metastasis to the ovary treated by curative resection.

Because of the poor prognosis of synchronous or metachronous ovarian metastases, several authors12,16 have advocated palliative surgical management only or especially when extensive intra-abdominal disease or distant metastasis is present. However, some others13,30 suggested a more aggressive surgical resection.

In conclusion, the true incidence of ovarian metastases in CRC is very low, the primary CRC is commonly advanced, and other distant metastases are frequent. Although oophorectomy reduces the chance of secondary laparotomy for resection of metachronous metastatic disease in a small percentage of patients, routine prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy is not justified.

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    Ovarian metastases; Colorectal cancer; Oophorectomy

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