Fallopian tube cancer

What is fallopian tube cancer?

Fallopian tube cancer is a cancer that arises from one or both of the fallopian tubes.

The fallopian tubes

The fallopian tubes are the tubular structures which connect the upper, outer-most part of the uterus with the ovary, and provide a means for fertilisation of the female egg.

In women of reproductive age, an egg is released from one of the ovaries into the adjacent fallopian tube once each month during ovulation.

The tube helps to move the egg along its journey to the uterus with small hair-like projections called cilia, which line the tube’s insides.

In the uterus (also called the womb), the egg is either fertilised by male sperm or discarded during menstruation.

The fallopian tubes are named after a famous Italian physician named Gabriele Fallopio (1523–1562), who first described them.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of many related diseases. All cancers begin in cells, the body’s basic building blocks.

Normally, cells grow and multiply in an orderly way.

However, damaged genes can cause them to behave abnormally. They may grow into a lump called a tumour. Tumours can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

A malignant tumour is made up of cancer cells. If these cells are not treated, they may spread beyond their normal boundaries and into surrounding tissues, becoming invasive cancer. This spread of cancer is called metastasis.

When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumour has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumour.

Types of fallopian tube cancer

  • Papillary serous adenocarcinomas. The vast majority (more than 95 per cent) of fallopian tube cancers are papillary serous adenocarcinomas. These cancers grow from cells that line the fallopian tubes that have become abnormal. When the cells begin to divide abnormally and gain the ability to invade other organs or spread to other parts of the body, tumours may form.
  • Leiomyosarcomas and transitional cell carcinomas. Very occasionally, tumours can form from smooth muscle in the fallopian tubes, in which case they are called sarcomas (leiomyosarcomas), or from other cells that line the fallopian tubes, in which case they are called transitional cell carcinomas.

How common is fallopian tube cancer?

Cancer of the fallopian tube is rare. Primary fallopian tube cancer accounts for less than half of one per cent of all cancers in Australian women.

Although fallopian tube cancer is rare, treatment is similar in many respects to treatment for ovarian cancer, and you may find some comfort in sharing your experience with women with ovarian cancer.

Fallopian tube cancer may occur in middle-aged women who have had children and after menopause. The peak incidence is in women who are 60 to 64 years of age, but fallopian tube cancer can continue to occur in women who are in their early to mid-eighties.