What Is Fallopian Tube Cancer?

Fallopian tube cancer starts in the fallopian tubes, which connect a woman's ovaries to her uterus. Each month, an ovary releases one egg into the fallopian tube. The egg either gets fertilized by sperm, or it passes out of the body during a menstrual period.

Fallopian tube cancer is very rare. Only about 1% of all reproductive cancers in women start in the fallopian tubes.

This type of cancer is treatable. If you're diagnosed with it, your doctor can help you understand your options.

Causes

Doctors don't know exactly why fallopian tube cancer happens. You may have a higher chance of having it if you've:

Having a close relative (mother, sister, daughter) with ovarian or breast cancer also raises your risk. You're more likely to get fallopian tube cancer if you inherited a change (mutation) to the BRCA gene, which makes ovarian and breast cancers more likely.

One theory is that long-lasting infections of the reproductive tract might trigger this cancer. But this hasn't been proved.

Fallopian tube cancer can start at any age, but it's most common in women who are in their 50s or 60s.

Having one or more risks for fallopian tube cancer doesn’t mean you will definitely get this cancer. Yet you should discuss your risks with your doctor.

Symptoms

Some women don't have any signs of this kind of cancer. But if you do, they can include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina when you don't have your period -- for example, if you've already gone through menopause
  • White, clear, or pink discharge from the vagina
  • Pain or pressure in your lower belly
  • Lump or swelling in your lower belly

Many different conditions cause these symptoms. If you have them, it doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer. But you should check with your doctor, just to be sure.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms and your family medical history. The doctor might gently press on your belly to feel for any lumps or tender spots.

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You might have one or more of these tests:

Pelvic exam. The doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina. This device widens the opening so your doctor can see your cervix and feel you uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

You may get a Pap test. The doctor uses a thin tool to scrape some cells from your cervix. A lab then tests these cells for cancer.

Ultrasound. This test uses high-energy sound waves to make a picture of your fallopian tubes and other organs in your pelvis. An ultrasound may be done using a wand on the outside of your belly. Or, the wand may be placed inside your vagina. This is called a transvaginal ultrasound.

CT, or computed tomography, scan. It's a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures inside your body.

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of your fallopian tubes and other structures inside your body.

Biopsy. The doctor removes a sample of cells from your fallopian tubes. A technician in a lab looks at these cells under a microscope to see if they are cancer.

CA125 test. Fallopian tube cancers release a protein called CA125 that can show up in your blood. Having high CA125 levels doesn't mean you definitely have cancer. Fibroids, pregnancy, and other conditions can also raise CA125 levels. You'll need other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

Surgery is the main treatment for fallopian tube cancer. Which type of surgery you get depends on the stage of your cancer -- its size and where it has spread.

Salpingo-oophorectomy removes one or both fallopian tubes and ovaries. It's used to treat early-stage fallopian tube cancers.

Total hysterectomyremoves the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

You may get chemotherapy after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that are left behind. Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or stop their growth.

Sometimes radiation is done before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or stop their growth.

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Palliative care is another important part of treating your cancer. It is not always the same as hospice care. You can still get treatment, but you also get care for pain, emotional stress, and other issues related to your cancer that can affect your quality of life.

Doctors test new treatments for fallopian tube cancer in clinical trials. These trials are often a way for people to try a new medicine that isn't available to everyone. You may want to ask your doctor if there's a clinical trial that would be a good fit for you.

Pregnancy After Fallopian Tube Cancer

If you’re still in your childbearing years when you’re diagnosed, treatments for this type of cancer can affect your fertility. Surgery to remove your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus can make it hard to get pregnant in the future. Chemotherapy can also damage these organs or put you in early menopause.

Yet it is possible to get pregnant after you're treated for fallopian tube cancer. Your doctor may be able to remove just one ovary and fallopian tube. Even if both ovaries are removed, you may be able to freeze your eggs or embryos before the surgery and get pregnant in the future.

If you plan to have children, talk to your doctor about your options before you have surgery. The doctor may be able to take steps to preserve your fertility.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 09, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Cancer.net: "Caring for the Symptoms of Cancer and its Treatment."

Cancer Research UK: "Fallopian tube cancer."

MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Fallopian Tube Cancer."

OncoLink: "All About Fallopian Tube Cancer."

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance: "Fertility and Fertility Preservation."

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