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More common are cancers that start in other parts of the body and spread to the fallopian tubes including ovarian, endometrial, gastrointestinal and breast cancer. These are called secondary fallopian tube cancers.
If a woman has not gone through menopause, her ovaries produce eggs (ova) that travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. In the uterus, they are fertilized or expelled as part of menstruation (also called the menstrual cycle or periods).
Usually, an egg is released from the ovaries into the fallopian tubes each month. The tubes are lined with small hair-like projections called cilia. These help move the eggs to the uterus.
Fallopian Tube Cancer Types
The two main types of fallopian tube cancer are serous adenocarcinomas and endometrioid adenocarcinomas. These are the cancers that start in the lining of the fallopian tubes.
More rare types of Fallopian tube cancer include leiomyosarcomas, which form in the smooth muscle of the tube, and transitional cell, which form in other cells inside the tube.
Fallopian Tube Cancer Risk Factors
Because Fallopian tube cancer is so rare, we do not know the exact causes and risk factors. Risk factors may include:
- Age: Fallopian tube cancer can occur in women of any age. But it most often is found in white women between 50 and 60 years old who have had few or no children. The usual age is 60 to 66 years.
- Family history of Fallopian tube cancer
- Gene mutations: Women who have certain gene mutations may have a higher risk of Fallopian tube cancer. These include:
- BRCA gene mutations, particularly BRCA1, which cause high risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- One of the genes that cause HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer), also called Lynch syndrome
Some women have a lower risk of getting Fallopian tube cancer. These include women who have:
- Used birth control pills
- Delivered and breast-fed children. The more children you have had, the lower your risk of Fallopian cancer.
Not everyone with risk factors gets Fallopian tube cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
If you are concerned about inherited family syndromes that may cause Fallopian tube cancer, learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic testing page.
Sometimes women with Fallopian tube cancer do not have symptoms. Other times, the signs are vague and like those of other conditions. Symptoms vary from woman to woman.
If you have Fallopian tube cancer, you may have:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause
- Abdominal or pelvic pain or pressure
- Unusual vaginal discharge that is white, clear or tinged with pink
- A mass in the pelvic region
These symptoms do not always mean you have Fallopian tube cancer. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may signal other health problems.
If you have Fallopian tube cancer, it is important to get a concise diagnosis as soon as possible. This helps increase your chances for successful treatment. However, diagnosing Fallopian tube cancer can be challenging because:
- It is a rare type of cancer
- Symptoms are vague and like those of other conditions
- Finding cancer inside the Fallopian tube is difficult
Fallopian Tube Cancer Diagnostic Tests
If you have symptoms that may signal Fallopian tube cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health and your family medical history. A pelvic examination will be done to feel your uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes and vagina. If a mass is found, your doctor will do more tests.
One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have Fallopian tube cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working. Imaging tests, which may include:
- Ultrasound of the pelvis
- Transvaginal ultrasound (a special wand inserted in the vagina gives off ultrasound waves)
- CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
- Biopsy: Cells are removed from the Fallopian tubes and looked at under a microscope. This is the only way to be sure if you have Fallopian tube cancer. It usually requires surgery.
- CA125 test: This blood test checks the levels of CA125, a known tumor marker for gynecologic diseases. A high level of CA125 may mean you should have more tests, but it does not always mean you have Fallopian tube cancer.
If you are diagnosed with Fallopian tube cancer, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease. Staging is a way of classifying how much disease is in the body and where it has spread when it is diagnosed. This information helps your doctor plan the best type of treatment for you.
Fallopian Tube Cancer Stages
(Source: American Cancer Society)
Stage I: The tumor is limited to one or both Fallopian tubes.
Stage II: The tumor:
- Involves one or both tubes
- Has spread to the pelvic area and/or the uterus, ovary or other pelvic tissues
Stage III: The tumor:
- Involves one or both tubes and the pelvis
- Has spread to the abdominal cavity and/or nearby lymph nodes
Stage IV: The cancer has spread to the lung, liver or other distant organs.
Fallopian tube cancer treatment usually includes surgery, which is most successful when done by a specialist with a great deal of experience in treating this rare cancer.
MD Anderson surgeons are among the most skilled and recognized in the world. They perform a number of surgeries for Fallopian tube cancer each year, using the least-invasive and most-advanced techniques.
Our Fallopian Tube Cancer Treatments
If you are diagnosed with Fallopian tube cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several things, including the size, location and stage of the tumor, your age, overall health and desire to have children.
One or more of the following therapies may be used to treat Fallopian tube cancer or help relieve symptoms.
Fallopian Tube Surgery
Surgery, followed by chemotherapy, is the main treatment for Fallopian tube cancer. The type of surgery depends on the stage of the tumor. Surgery to treat the cancer may be done during the same operation as the biopsy.
The Fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus and cervix, as well as nearby lymph nodes, usually are removed. Sometimes the surgery can be minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.
MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced chemotherapy options. For Fallopian tube cancer, chemotherapy usually is given after surgery.
Radiation therapy usually is not used to treat Fallopian tube cancer. But it may be used to help you feel better if the cancer cannot be treated. Sometimes it is given after surgery and chemotherapy.
Why come to MD Anderson for your fallopian tube cancer care?
Fallopian tube cancer treatment at MD Anderson's Gynecologic Oncology Center includes comprehensive, exemplary care that is planned by some of the nation's top experts. Your care team may include medical, surgical and radiation oncologists; pathologists; and diagnostic radiologists, all working toward the best possible treatment outcome. MD Anderson diagnoses and treats more patients with Fallopian tube cancer than most oncologists in the United States.
MD Anderson uses the latest, most-advanced technology and techniques to treat Fallopian tube cancer. Among these are innovative surgical techniques, including minimally invasive options for some patients.
Studies have shown that the success of any surgery depends a great deal on the skill of the surgeon. MD Anderson's renowned surgeons have some of the highest levels of experience and expertise in Fallopian tube cancer procedures.
Pioneering Fallopian Tube Cancer Research
If you are at high risk for Fallopian tube cancer because of inherited genetic conditions, such as BRCA or HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer), MD Anderson offers complete genetic testing. Results can help you find if you or your family members are at risk of certain types of cancer, including Fallopian tube cancer.
Fallopian tube cancer is like ovarian cancer in some ways. Many studies in our renowned ovarian cancer research program are open to women with Fallopian tube cancer. This enables us to offer a wider range of clinical trials than many other cancer centers.