Womens Health

Tubal Cancer

A Little Biology Lesson

The fallopian tubes are part of the female reproductive anatomy.  They are two tubes attached to either side of the top end of the uterus.  Each tube ends at or near one ovary and the structure formed by this joining is called the fimbria.  Fallopian tubes are not directly connected to the ovaries, but they open into the abdominal cavity.  If a woman is missing one fallopian tube, the remaining part of the pair can still be effective in transporting an egg from the ovary down to the uterus, which is the primary function of these tubes.

Fallopian Tube Cancer

Fallopian tube cancer is very rare, accounting for between 1% and 2% of all gynecological cancers and can begin in any of the variety of cells which comprise the fallopian tubes.  More than 95% of fallopian tube cancers are adenocarcinomas - cancers that originate in glandular tissue.  This type of tissue is part of a larger group known as epithelial tissue which includes the skin, glands and other tissue which lines the various cavities and organs of the body.  A rare form of cancer in this region is sarcoma, cancer of the connective tissue and soft tissue.  It is believed that the majority of fallopian tube cancer actually originates in other parts of the reproductive system, such as the ovaries, and then moves into the tubes.

What Causes It?

The discovery of the connection between mutations of breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 and ovarian cancer have lead some researches to believe this same gene can affect the fallopian tubes as well, or at least create risk for developing cancer in the tubes.  If a woman knows she is a carrier of a BRCA mutation, it is important to include the possibility of fallopian tube cancer in the testing process.  Since fallopian cancer is so rare, most often women are not diagnosed properly until after surgery, when it becomes apparent. 

When symptoms present that could indicate fallopian tube cancer, alaparoscopy (viewing the fallopian tubes and surrounding tissues through a viewing tube which is inserted into a small incision made below the navel) or surgery may be performed, to make a diagnosis.  Generally the prognosis is similar to ovarian cancer and treatment is similar as well.

Statistics

If fallopian tube cancer is detected early it can often be successfully treated.  When the cancer is in its earliest stage and contained in the lining of the fallopian tube, there is a 95% five year survival rate.  If the cancer has spread into the walls of the fallopian tubes, the relative survival rate decreases to 75%.  Once it spreads outside of the fallopian tubes the rate falls to 45%.  It is wise to be very cautious in interpreting statistics, though.  The actual risk to an individual may differ from someone else.  Estimates are based on cumulative data and may not be exactly right for each individual.  They also may not represent advances in medicine or technology as they are measured in five year increments. 


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