Learn all about fallopian tube cancer the related symptoms, survival rates and treatments used in this condition. The fallopian tubes are two fine tubes that link the ovaries to either side of the womb (uterus). They are part of a woman’s reproductive system, which is made up of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb, cervix and vagina.
Fallopian tube cancer, also known as tubal cancer, develops in the fallopian tubes that connect the ovaries and the uterus. It is very rare and accounts for only 1 percent to 2 percent of all gynecologic cancers. About 1,500 to 2,000 cases of fallopian tube cancer have been reported worldwide. Approximately 300 to 400 women are diagnosed with the condition annually in the United States. Only around 1 in 100 cancers of the female reproductive system (1%) are this type. In the USA tubal cancer had an incidence of 0.41 per 100,000 women from 1998 to 2003.
Fallopian tube cancer typically affects women between the ages of 50 and 60, although it can occur at any age. It is more common in Caucasian women who have had few or no children. Because this cancer is so rare, little is known about what causes it. However, researchers are investigating whether genetics play a role. There is evidence that women who have inherited the gene linked to breast and ovarian cancer, called BRCA1, are also at an increased risk of developing fallopian tube cancer.
Other types of fallopian tube cancer are very rare and include transitional cells which are stretchy cells found in the fallopian tube lining and Sarcoma this affects the muscular part of the fallopian tube. Cancer of the fallopian tubes is rare. The internal location of the fallopian tubes makes it difficult to reach an early diagnosis. Symptoms are nonspecific and may consist of pain and vaginal discharge or bleeding. A pelvic mass may be detected on a routine gynecologic examination.
Fallopian tube cancer is treated in a very similar way to ovarian cancer. Surgeons try to remove the entire tumour, or as much of it as possible. Treatment for fallopian tube cancer usually involves surgery, followed by chemotherapy. Therapy will depend on age and desire to have children, as well as the type and stage of tumor. Surgical treatments are typically followed by adjuvant usually platinum-based chemotherapy. Also radiation therapy has been applied with some success to patients with tubal cancer for palliative or curative indications.
Fallopian Tube Symptoms
Fallopian tube cancer is often asymptomatic. Symptoms of fallopian tube cancer also may mimic those of other gynecological problems. Some of the more common symptoms of the disease may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that is white, clear or pinkish
- A pelvic mass at the time of diagnosis, which is present in up to two-thirds of patients
- Abdominal bloating
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequency
- Upset stomach
- Back pain
- Pain with intercourse
- Menstrual irregularities
Fallopian Tube Survival Rate
The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, many people live much longer than 5 years (and even are cured). The 5-year survival rate for women with all types of ovarian and fallopian cancer is 46%. Women under 65 have a 5-year survival rate of 58%. The survival rate of women 65 and older is 28%.
If ovarian and fallopian tube cancers are diagnosed and treated before they spread outside the ovaries and tubes, the general 5-year survival rate is about 90%. Approximately 15% of cases are diagnosed at this stage. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs, the 5-year survival rate is 75%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 30%. The 10-year survival rate is 35%. However, the rate varies widely depending on age of the woman, as well as the stage and grade of the cancer.
Fallopian Tube Treatment
Fallopian tube cancer treatment may include surgical, chemotherapeutic, radial and hormonal treatments. Surgical treatments include:
- Salpingo-oophorectomy surgery to remove the diseased fallopian tube and its ovary
- Bilateral Salpingo-oophorectomy surgery to remove both of the fallopian tubes and the ovaries
- Hysterectomy surgery to remove the internal reproductive organs, including fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus
- Bowel resection surgery may be needed if the cancer has spread to include the bowel
Chemotherapy: the use of cancer-killing drugs, often in combination. Chemotherapy can be helpful in controlling secondary cancers because the whole body is treated. This is usually required for these cancers after surgery. The chemotherapy drug most commonly used is carboplatin. Other drugs that can also be used are:
- liposomal doxorubicin
Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays that destroy the cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. It is occasionally used to reduce symptoms if the cancer comes back and other treatments are not suitable.
Occasionally, hormonal therapy drugs such as tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor drug may be used if tests show the cancer cells are sensitive to hormones. This is more usually used to treat fallopian tube cancer that has come back.