Fallopian tube cancer is a form of cancer that affects women. Because of its rare occurrence, there is very little information or resources surrounding the condition. Here you’ll find essential information to help you understand and deal with this type of cancer.
What Is It?
Fallopian tube cancer, or tubal cancer as it is also known, is an extremely rare form of cancer that only affects about 300 to 400 women each year, according to the University of San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center. This form of cancer originates in the cells inside the fallopian tubes. It is much more common for cancer cells to spread to the fallopian tubes from other areas than it is for the cells to originate in the fallopian tubes.
Fallopian tube cancer typically affects a certain demographic of women. These women fall between the ages of 50 and 70 years old, are typically of Caucasian decent and have had few or no children.
The cause of fallopian cancer is largely unknown. However, research has shown that fallopian tube cancer is part of the same family as breast and ovarian cancer. It is caused by the same BRAC1 and BRAC2 genetic mutations as the other types of cancers. Those with these particular mutations have also been shown to develop cancers at an earlier age.
In general, cancer occurs when healthy cells mutate and grow and multiply out of control. A tumor will eventually develop, though how fast it develops will depend upon the speed at which the cells grow and multiply.
Women with an increased risk of developing cancer, such as those with a close family history of cancer, can be tested for these genetic mutations. Once identified, steps can be taken to help reduce the risk. Oral contraceptives have been shown in some studies to be effective at reducing the risk of developing fallopian tube cancer.
Once child-bearing is complete, women with an identified risk of developing certain types of gynecological cancers can have a prophylactic hysterectomy. This procedure surgically removes all the reproductive organs to prevent them from developing cancerous tumors.
Like many forms of gynecological cancers, the symptoms of fallopian tube cancer are vague and can often be misdiagnosed as other conditions. These symptoms include:
- Vaginal bleeding not associated with a normal menstrual cycle, especially after menopause
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- A feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen
- Abnormal heavy vaginal discharge that is clear, white or pink in color
- A palpable mass in the pelvic area. This occurs in about two-thirds of all patients at the time of diagnosis
Women who experience any of these symptoms or those who feel like something just isn’t right in their bodies should discuss their concerns with their doctor. After all, a woman knows her body better than a doctor. So if she suspects something, she should be persistent in getting it checked out.
Tests And Diagnosis
Fallopian tube cancer is diagnosed by a pelvic exam and by blood test. During a pelvic exam a doctor is able to feel the cancerous tumor in the majority of cases. A blood test called a CA125 test can also be used to measure the level of a certain blood protein that is a cancer marker. In 85 percent of all cases, patients who are diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer have an elevated level of CA125.
As with many other forms of gynecological cancers, treatment for fallopian tube cancer will involve surgery. This will remove the majority of the cancer cells from the body. Chemotherapy is also used to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body. The stage of the cancer and the individual case will determine how exactly treatment will progress. Radiation may be used as well, again depending upon the situation.
Chemotherapy is a type of drug formula that is administered by mouth, intravenously (IV) or by injection into the peritoneal cavity (abdomen). If the cancer is advanced chemotherapy may be administered both intravenously and by directly infusing into the peritoneal cavity. Chemotherapy is known as systemic treatment because it kills cancer cells throughout the entire body through the blood stream.
The good news is that the prognosis for fallopian tube cancer is rather positive. The 5-year survival rates are high, between 70 and 93 percent, but this depends largely on when the diagnosis occurred. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the long term outlook is.
It is important to note that although women can be diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer at any age, the majority of cases occur in post-menopausal women, and in many cases death shortly after diagnosis or even after completing treatment may be the result of natural causes related to age and not necessarily the cancer itself.
When it comes to any type of cancer, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If a woman feels that there is something not right in her body, she should see her doctor and discuss her concerns. Since diagnosis I as simple as a pelvic exam and some blood tests, there is no reason not to be checked.