Fallopian tube cancer
This page tells you about fallopian tube cancer. There is information about
- Fallopian tube cancer
- The fallopian tubes
- Risks and causes of fallopian tube cancer
- Symptoms of fallopian tube cancer
Cancer of the fallopian tubes is rare. Only around 1 in 100 cancers of the female reproductive system (1%) start in the fallopian tubes. It is much more common for a cancer to start elsewhere in the body and spread to the fallopian tubes as a secondary cancer or metastasis. In fallopian tube cancer, the cancer starts in 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
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
If two 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
- Your sister
- Your daughter
Doctors have identified two genes that cause ovarian and fallopian tube cancer. These are the BRCA genes. Researchers think that the faulty BRCA gene might cause around 6 out of 100 (15%) cancers of the fallopian tube.
Doctors have linked chronic infection of the reproductive system with fallopian tube cancer. But no research has confirmed this as a cause.
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
Other types of fallopian tube cancer are
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
If you have symptoms of pain or abnormal bleeding, the first thing your doctor is likely to do is to examine your abdomen (tummy). 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.
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.
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 doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer because it can be raised for other reasons, such as
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
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.
Because fallopian cancer is so rare, there are too few cases to carry out specific trials for this cancer type. But 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 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.
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.
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