Women with suspected early-stage ovarian cancer need surgical staging which involves taking samples from areas within the abdominal cavity and retroperitoneal lymph nodes in order to inform further treatment. One potential strategy is to surgically stage all women with suspicious ovarian masses, without any histological information during surgery. This avoids incomplete staging, but puts more women at risk of potential surgical over-treatment.
A second strategy is to perform a two-stage procedure to remove the pelvic mass and subject it to paraffin sectioning, which involves formal tissue fixing with formalin and paraffin embedding, prior to ultrathin sectioning and multiple site sampling of the tumour. Surgeons may then base further surgical staging on this histology, reducing the rate of over-treatment, but conferring additional surgical and anaesthetic morbidity.
A third strategy is to perform a rapid histological analysis on the ovarian mass during surgery, known as 'frozen section'. Tissues are snap frozen to allow fine tissue sections to be cut and basic histochemical staining to be performed. Surgeons can perform or avoid the full surgical staging procedure depending on the results. However, this is a relatively crude test compared to paraffin sections, which take many hours to perform. With frozen section there is therefore a risk of misdiagnosing malignancy and understaging women subsequently found to have a presumed early-stage malignancy (false negative), or overstaging women without a malignancy (false positive). Therefore it is important to evaluate the accuracy and usefulness of adding frozen section to the clinical decision-making process.