Fallopian tube cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Ruchi Garg, MD, Chair, Gynecologic Oncology, City of Hope Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix

This page was reviewed on May 9, 2022.

The fallopian tubes are part of the female reproductive system. They help move eggs from the ovaries to the uterus during the monthly ovulation process. Most women are born with two fallopian tubes. A rare type of gynecological cancer may develop within the fallopian tubes.

Often, the cancer that begins in the fallopian tubes is bundled with ovarian cancer terminology, just as peritoneal cancer of gynecologic origin is.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer, the information below may help.

What causes fallopian tube cancer?

Fallopian tube cancers may develop for genetic, spontaneous or other environmental reasons.

Risk factors for fallopian tube cancer

Some risk factors may increase a woman's chances of developing fallopian tube cancer, including:

  • Family history of breast cancer 
  • Certain inherited genetic mutations and conditions
  • Age (being older than 50)
  • Weight (particularly being obese during early adulthood years)
  • Ethnic background (increased risk reported in women from North America, Northern Europe, and those of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage)
  • Reproductive history (such as never giving birth, starting menstruation early in life or menopause later than about age 51)

There’s evidence that some factors may lower a woman’s reproductive cancer risk. These include:

  • Birth control use
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Tubal ligation
  • Hysterectomy

It’s important to note that having certain risk factors doesn’t mean a person will or won’t develop fallopian tube cancer.

Symptoms of fallopian tube cancer

Fallopian tube cancer shares symptoms with both ovarian and peritoneal cancer. Symptoms that may indicate fallopian tube cancer include:

  • Back, pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Indigestion, including feeling full quickly after eating
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating or abdominal swelling
  • Changes to menstrual cycle
  • Vaginal discharge (usually clear and watery)
  • Changes to urinary frequency

Because many of these symptoms can have other causes, it’s sometimes difficult to diagnose fallopian tube cancer in its earliest stages. If you have these any of these symptoms and they persist, schedule a doctor’s appointment and undergo evaluation.

Diagnosing fallopian tube cancer

Because there’s currently no screening program for fallopian tube cancers, many patients aren’t diagnosed until the later stages. Some of these cancers, though, are incidentally diagnosed during prophylactic surgeries performed for hereditary reasons.

If fallopian tube cancer is suspected, doctors have access to a number of diagnostic tests to examine the patient. Below are the most commonly used procedures.

Physical examination: During this gynecologic exam, the doctor performs a speculum and digital vaginal and rectal exam.

Tumor marker tests: Blood tests, such as the CA-125 test, look for tumor markers. These are biomarkers found in blood, produced by cancer cells.

Imaging scans: Procedures such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), transvaginal ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) scans allow doctors to look for tumors inside the body.

If any of the diagnostic tools indicate that cancer might be present, a biopsy is performed. During a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope for cancer cells. This is the only way to diagnose fallopian tube cancer. Many times, biopsy is performed via surgery, but when surgery is not recommended, especially with more advanced cancers that cannot be completely removed with surgery, an image-guided biopsy may be performed by a radiologist. 

Treatment options

After a fallopian tube cancer diagnosis, a care team will talk the patient through the most appropriate treatment options—taking into account the stage of cancer, personal preferences and factors such as other preexisting health conditions. Some of the most common treatment options include:

Surgery is performed to remove the affected fallopian tube or tubes, ovaries and uterus. The extent of the surgery depends on the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy uses medication to kill cancer cells, and it may be recommended after surgery to help ensure no cancer cells remain in the body.

Each cancer treatment has possible side effects, so patients should always discuss this matter with their care team. Working together, patients and their doctors can make appropriate decisions for health and quality of life.

Survival rates

According to the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database:

  • For patients with localized fallopian tube cancer (meaning the cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body), the five-year relative survival rate is 95 percent.
  • For patients with regional fallopian tube cancer (meaning the cancer has spread to nearby areas or lymph nodes), the five-year relative survival rate is 53 percent.
  • For patients with distant fallopian tube cancer (meaning the cancer has spread to faraway areas of the body), the five-year relative survival rate is 45 percent.

For all fallopian tube cancers, the overall five-year relative survival rate is 57 percent.

However, it should be noted that each situation is unique and new treatments are regularly improving survival rates and quality of life.

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