Fallopian Tube Cancer

The fallopian tube is the tube where the egg travels from the ovary to the uterus for fertilization. Fallopian tube cancer occurs when a mass of abnormal cells grow inside the fallopian tube. Sometimes the mass is benign (non-cancerous). When the mass is cancerous it can cause the tube to stretch and become very painful. Cancer in the fallopian tube can grow outside and spread to the rest of the body. This article will help you understand more about this type of cancer, how it is diagnosed and treated.

Types of Fallopian Tube Cancer

Caucasian women that are between the ages of 50 to 60 are most commonly affected with cancer of the fallopian tubes, although anyone can get it. There are a few different types of fallopian tube cancer:

  •  Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that grows from a gland
  •  Leiomyosarcoma: Cancer that grows from smooth muscle
  •  Transitional Cell Carcinoma: Cancer that grows from the fallopian tube lining

Symptoms of Fallopian Tube Cancer

Any of the reproductive cancers (ovarian, uterine, cervical, and fallopian tube) often have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms of fallopian cancer usually appear at an advanced stage and include:

  • Fallopian tube pain
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Bowel pressure
  • Bladder pressure
  • Watery or bloody vaginal discharge that is unrelated to a period
  • Lump or swelling in the pelvic area
  • Abdominal bloating or swelling

Causes and Diagnosis of Fallopian Tube Cancer

Researchers have not been able to find an exact cause of fallopian tube cancer. There are a few factors that may raise the risk. These include:

  • Family History and Genetics

The risk for fallopian tube cancer is higher if you have two close relatives (mother, daughter, siblings) that have had a reproductive cancer (ovarian or breast). There are two different genes that cause either fallopian tube cancer or ovarian cancer. These are known as BRCA genes and if they are defective, there is a 16 percent chance of these cancers.

  • Infection

A chronic infection in the female reproductive system may raise the risk of reproductive system cancers, however this is unproven.

Diagnosing Fallopian Tube Cancer

  • Pelvic Eamination

If you are experiencing lower abdominal pain, unexplained bleeding, or a lump in your pelvic area, see your doctor. You will most likely be required to do a pelvic examination. The doctor will put you in stirrups and place two fingers inside the vagina while pressing on the abdomen.

  • Ultrasound/CT Scan/MRI Scan

The doctor may order an ultrasound first to get a better look at the ovaries. If they need to, they may decide to also look at the ovaries from the inside with a transvaginal ultrasound. If abnormalities are found, the doctor may order further tests, such as a CT scan and/or MRI scan to check for masses outside the pelvic area.

  • Blood Testing/CA-125

There is a blood test called CA-125. Certain diseases cause tumor marker levels to increase in the blood, but it isn’t always a cancer. Raised levels could mean: pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy, fibroid tumors (benign), or fallopian tube cancer in this case.

Treatments for Fallopian Tube Cancer

1.      Surgery

Surgery can be performed to remove any cancerous tissue. Any tissue around the tumor and possibly lymph nodes in the area will also need to be removed. If cancer has spread, a full hysterectomy may need to be performed. Risks of this treatment are the same as with any surgery.

2.      Chemotherapy

An oncologist (cancer specialist) administers medications that kill off the cancer cells in the body. This is given through an IV (intravenous therapy) over a period of weeks to months. If cancer was found to be advanced in surgery, they will do chemotherapy afterwards to make sure that all cancer cells are gone. Side-effects include: hair loss, infection, nausea, vomiting, diarrheaand fatigue.

3.      Cancer Maintenance

After the first round of chemotherapy, doctors may opt to continue with treatments to keep the cancer from returning. This may be new rounds of chemotherapy or other drugs.

4.      Radiation

Radiation is used to shrink tumors or as a cancer maintenance. Radiation is directed at the area where cancer cells are growing. One type is called external beam radiation and is given by a radiation oncologist who specializes in treating cancer. Side-effects include: skin rash, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue.

Fallopian Tube Cancer Prognosis and Stages

Fallopian tube cancer is very treatable if found early. The five-year survival rate for cancer that is detected in the early stage of the disease is 95%. This is when the cancer is found only in the lining of the tubes and not spread outside. Cancer that has spread to the actual fallopian tube walls drops the five-year survival rate to 75%. If the cancer spreads beyond the tubes, survival rate drops to 45%. It is important to understand that the survival rates are only estimates. Survival depends on how the actual individual responds to treatment. There may also be advances in treatment for this type of cancer that may help extend survival rates.

Cancer Staging

The doctor will look at a few things to know the stage of the cancer. These include:

  •  Tumor (T): How big is the tumor, and where is it located?
  •  Nodes (N): Has the cancer spread to lymph nodes? (these could carry it throughout the body)
  •  Metastasis (M): Has the cancer already spread to other parts of the body?

Based on test results, the doctor will give the cancer a stage 0 through IV or re-occurring and also a grade, which describes what actual cancer cells look like.