Fallopian Tube Cancer Overview
The fallopian tubes, also called uterine tubes, are part of the female reproductive system. They are thin ducts that attach the ovaries to the uterus. Women have two fallopian tubes, one located on either side of the uterus. These tubes help to move eggs from the woman’s ovaries into the uterus.
Cancer of the fallopian tube is a rare kind of cancer. It develops when normal cells found in the fallopian tube become abnormal and begin to quickly grow to form a cancerous mass or tumor. The most common cell found in the fallopian tube that can develop cancer is papillary serous adenocarcinoma. Cancer can also form from smooth muscles in the fallopian tube. This is a type of cancer called sarcoma or leiomyosarcoma, which is also rare.
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting cancer. Since fallopian tube cancer is rare, there is little information about risk factors. The following may increase a woman’s chance of developing fallopian tube cancer:
- being between the ages of 50-60 and post-menopausal (24-36 months after a woman’s last period)
- a family history: a woman with family members with fallopian tube cancer may have an increased risk of developing cancer
- genetic mutations: women with a mutation in the BRCA-1 gene, which is linked to breast and ovarian cancer, may have an increased risk of developing fallopian tube cancer1
Women with fallopian tube cancer may have signs and symptoms of the disease or none at all. The three most common symptoms are abnormal vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge, a mass or lump in the pelvis, and abdominal or pelvic pain.
The treatment options for fallopian tube cancer can vary depending on your overall health, the size of the tumor, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Some treatments are standard of care which is the currently used treatment for this type of cancer. Standard of care might include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. Surgery is the removal of the cancer and some tissue that surrounds it during an operation by a surgeon. If the cancer is only found in the fallopian tube, treatment may be the removal of the fallopian tubes and the ovaries. This procedure is called a salpingo-oopherectomy. If the cancer has spread, the surgeon may remove the uterus. This kind of operation is called a hysterectomy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given after surgery for fallopian tube cancer. Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particle to kill cancer cells. It may be used prior to surgery to shrink the tumor found in the fallopian tube. Radiation therapy may also be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Patients may also have the option to be treated on a clinical trial which is meant to help improve current treatments (standard of care) or obtain information on new treatments for patients with fallopian tube cancer. It is important to discuss your treatment options with your doctor and treatment care team to determine what is right for you.
1Zweemer RP, van Diest PJ, Verheijen RH, et al: Molecular evidence linking primary cancer of the fallopian tube to BRCA1 germline mutations. Gynecol Oncol 76:45-50, 2000.