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Fallopian tube cancer

 

Fallopian tube cancer

Cancer of the fallopian tubes is rare. Only around 1 in 100 cancers of the female reproductive system (1%) are this type. However, this figure may not be correct as some doctors now think that most high grade serous type ovarian cancers actually start in the far end of the fallopian tube, rather than the surface of the ovary.

 

The fallopian tubes

The fallopian tubes link the ovaries to the womb. During a woman’s childbearing years, the ovaries produce an egg each month. The egg travels through the fallopian tubes to the womb. If the egg is fertilised by a sperm, a baby will begin to develop in the womb.

The diagram below shows where the fallopian tubes are

Diagram showing the parts of the female reproductive system

 

Risks and causes of fallopian tube cancer

We don’t know what causes fallopian tube cancer. Risk factors are things that might increase a person’s risk of developing a cancer. Some possible risk factors have been suggested for fallopian tube cancer, including

A family history of ovarian or breast cancer

If 2 or more of your very close relatives have had ovarian cancer, you may be more at risk of fallopian tube cancer. A very close relative means your

  • Mother
  • Sister
  • Daughter

Doctors have identified 2 genes that cause ovarian and fallopian tube cancer. These are the BRCA genes. Researchers think that the faulty BRCA gene might cause around 16 out of 100 cancers of the fallopian tube (16%).

Chronic infection

Doctors have linked chronic infection of the reproductive system with fallopian tube cancer. But no research has confirmed this as a cause.

 

Symptoms of fallopian tube cancer

The symptoms of cancer of the fallopian tube are similar to the symptoms of ovarian cancer. They are often quite vague, particularly if the disease is in its early stages.

The symptoms may include

  • Vaginal bleeding not related to your periods
  • A watery vaginal discharge that may contain blood
  • Abdominal pain – this is often colicky (comes in spasms)
  • A swollen abdomen
 

Types of fallopian tube cancer

The most common type of fallopian tube cancer is an adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinomas of the fallopian tubes start in the epithelial cells. These cells are part of the lining of the fallopian tubes.

Other types of fallopian tube cancer are very rare and include

  • Transitional cell – transitional cells are stretchy cells found in the fallopian tube lining
  • Sarcoma – this affects the muscular part of the fallopian tube
 

Tests for fallopian tube cancer

Fallopian tube cancer can be hard to diagnose. If you have symptoms your doctor will examine you and use various tests to help make a diagnosis. These tests may include

Pelvic examination

If you have symptoms of pain or abnormal bleeding, the first thing your doctor is likely to do is to examine your abdomen. They will press gently on the outside of your abdomen to feel for any lumps, or tender areas.

Your doctor may also want to examine you internally. This is to see if your womb and ovaries feel normal. Your doctor will ask you to lie on your back on the couch with your feet drawn up and your knees apart. They will then put one or two gloved fingers into your vagina at the same time as pressing down on your abdomen with the other hand. If any part of your reproductive system is enlarged, or if a mass of any kind is there, your doctor may be able to feel it.

Scans

You might need to have an ultrasound scan to help diagnose your cancer. An ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture of a part of the body. You might have an abdominal ultrasound or a transvaginal ultrasound.

Your doctor may want you to have a CT scan or MRI scan to check if the cancer has spread within your abdomen. There is more about these scans in the cancer tests section.

Blood tests

Fallopian tube cancers often produce chemicals that show up in a blood test. Doctors call these tumour markers. The marker that doctors look for in fallopian tube cancer is called CA125. A raised level of CA125 can suggest either fallopian tube cancer or ovarian cancer. But it can be raised for other reasons, such as

 

Treatment and trials

Fallopian tube cancer is treated in a very similar way to ovarian cancer. Surgeons try to remove all of the tumour, or as much of it as possible. If your surgeon can't remove all of the cancer, your specialist is likely to suggest that you have chemotherapy after your surgery. You may also have chemotherapy if all of the cancer was removed. This is to try and stop the cancer from coming back. The drugs used are generally the same as for ovarian cancer. You can find more detail about treatment in our section about ovarian cancer.

Fallopian tube cancers are usually included in ovarian cancer trials. If you are interested in finding out about trials for this type of cancer, you can look at the ovarian cancer trials in our clinical trials database. Just choose 'ovarian and primary peritoneal cancer' from the dropdown menu of cancer types.

 

Coping with fallopian tube cancer

Coping with a rare condition can be difficult, both practically and emotionally. Being well informed about your condition and its treatment can help you to make decisions and cope with what happens.

The coping section has lots of information about coping emotionally, practically and physically .

It can also help to talk to other people who have the same thing. But it can be hard to find people who have had a rare type of cancer. Check out Cancer Chat – Cancer Research UK's discussion forum. It is a place for anyone affected by cancer to share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Rare Cancer Alliance or the Rarer Cancers Foundation who offer support and information to people who have rare cancers.

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Updated: 30 January 2014