What Is It?
Fallopian tubes are the passageways that connect the ovaries and the uterus. Fallopian-tube cancer occurs when cells in the fallopian tubes multiply out of control and form a tumor. As this tumor slowly grows, it can fill and eventually press against the inside of the fallopian tube, stretching the tubes and causing pelvic pain. Over time, the tumor also can invade the muscular wall of the fallopian tube, penetrate through the tube’s outer surface and eventually spread throughout the pelvis and abdomen.
Fallopian-tube cancer is very rare. It accounts for less than 1 percent of all cancers of the female reproductive organs. Only 1,500 to 2,000 cases have been reported worldwide, primarily in postmenopausal women. It is more common for cancer to spread to a fallopian tube from elsewhere in the body (usually the ovary or endometrium) than for a new cancer to develop in the fallopian tube.
Scientists don’t know whether any environmental or lifestyle factors increase the risk of this cancer. Researchers are looking at the possibility that there might be some genetic (inherited) tendency for developing the illness. In particular, there is some evidence that women who have inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, a gene already linked to breast and ovarian cancer, also seem to have an increased risk of developing fallopian-tube cancer.
Symptoms of fallopian-tube cancer can include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause
- Abdominal pain or a feeling of pressure in the abdomen
- Abnormal vaginal discharge (white, clear or pinkish)
These symptoms are not unique to fallopian-tube cancer. In fact, they occur more commonly as symptoms of other gynecological problems.
Because fallopian-tube cancer is so rare, and its symptoms can resemble other problems, your doctor may suspect that you have some other gynecological problem. As a result, your doctor might ask you questions to evaluate your risk for gynecological infections, ovarian tumors or endometrial cancer. These conditions have symptoms similar to fallopian-tube cancer and are more common than fallopian-tube cancer.
In most cases, women don’t learn they have fallopian-tube cancer until a fallopian tube has been removed surgically during surgery to treat another illness or problem, and is examined in a laboratory.
Once it develops, fallopian-tube cancer continues to grow until surgery is done to remove it. Without surgical treatment, fallopian-tube cancer can spread to other organs in the pelvis and abdomen.
Because the risk factors for fallopian-tube cancer are unknown, there is no way to prevent it. However, blood tests might some day be available to identify women who are at higher-than-average risk of developing fallopian-tube cancer or ovarian cancer. These screening tests may identify BRCA1 mutations.
Treatment for fallopian-tube cancer includes surgery and chemotherapy. The extent of surgery depends on the how far the tumor has spread. For example, if the tumor is contained in the fallopian tubes, surgeons remove only the fallopian tubes and ovaries. If the tumor involves larger areas of the reproductive tract, then the uterus also may need to be removed (a hysterectomy). Chemotherapy typically includes paclitaxel (Taxol) and cisplatin (Platinol).
When To Call A Professional
Call your family doctor or gynecologist if you have abnormal vaginal bleeding, persistent or severe abdominal or pelvic pain, or abnormal vaginal discharge. In particular, a woman who already has entered menopause should contact her doctor right away if she begins to have vaginal bleeding or a pinkish vaginal discharge.
The prognosis depends on how deeply the cancer has invaded the fallopian tube. If the cancer is limited to the tube’s inner lining (along the inside passageway), then the prognosis is excellent, with 91 percent of patients surviving for at least five years after diagnosis. However, if the cancer has penetrated the wall of the fallopian tube, then the five-year survival rate drops to 53 percent. For tumors that have spread through the wall to the tube’s outer surface, the five-year survival rate is less than 25 percent.
Diseases and Conditions Center
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.