The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries make eggs and female hormones (chemicals that control the way certain cells or organs work).
The fallopian tubes are a pair of long, slender tubes, one on each side of the uterus. Eggs pass from the ovaries, through the fallopian tubes, to the uterus. Cancer sometimes begins at the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary and spreads to the ovary.
The peritoneum is the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers organs in the abdomen. Primary peritoneal cancer is cancer that forms in the peritoneum and has not spread there from another part of the body. Cancer sometimes begins in the peritoneum and spreads to the ovary.
Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.
Ovarian epithelial cancer is one type of cancer that affects the ovary. See the following PDQ treatment summaries for information about other types of ovarian tumors:
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Women who have one first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister) with a history of ovarian cancer have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. This risk is higher in women who have one first-degree relative and one second-degree relative (grandmother or aunt) with a history of ovarian cancer. This risk is even higher in women who have two or more first-degree relatives with a history of ovarian cancer.Some ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person’s parents. Hereditary ovarian cancer makes up about 20% of all cases of ovarian cancer. There are three hereditary patterns: ovarian cancer alone, ovarian and breast cancers, and ovarian and colon cancers.
Fallopian tube cancer and peritoneal cancer may also be caused by certain inherited gene mutations.
There are tests that can detect gene mutations. These genetic tests are sometimes done for members of families with a high risk of cancer. See the following PDQ summaries for more information:
Some women who have an increased risk of ovarian cancer may choose to have a risk-reducing oophorectomy (the removal of healthy ovaries so that cancer cannot grow in them). In high-risk women, this procedure has been shown to greatly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. (See the PDQ summary on Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Prevention for more information.)Signs and symptoms of ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer include pain or swelling in the abdomen.
Ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer may not cause early signs or symptoms. When signs or symptoms do appear, the cancer is often advanced. Signs and symptoms may include the following:
These signs and symptoms also may be caused by other conditions and not by ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer. If the signs or symptoms get worse or do not go away on their own, check with your doctor so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.Tests that examine the ovaries and pelvic area are used to detect (find) and diagnose ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Pelvic exam. A doctor or nurse inserts one or two lubricated, gloved fingers of one hand into the vagina and presses on the lower abdomen with the other hand. This is done to feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries. The vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, and rectum are also checked.
Abdominal ultrasound. An ultrasound transducer connected to a computer is passed over the surface of the abdomen. The ultrasound transducer bounces sound waves off internal organs and tissues to make echoes that form a sonogram (computer picture).
Transvaginal ultrasound. An ultrasound probe connected to a computer is inserted into the vagina and is gently moved to show different organs. The probe bounces sound waves off internal organs and tissues to make echoes that form a sonogram (computer picture).
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
The process used to find out whether cancer has spread within the organ or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The results of the tests used to diagnose cancer are often also used to stage the disease. (See the General Information section.)There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if ovarian epithelial cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually ovarian epithelial cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian epithelial cancer, not lung cancer.The following stages are used for ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer:Stage I
In stage IA, cancer is found inside a single ovary or fallopian tube. In stage IB, cancer is found inside both ovaries or fallopian tubes. In stage IC, cancer is found inside one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and one of the following is true: (a) the capsule (outer covering) of the ovary has ruptured, (b) cancer is also found on the outside surface of one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes, or (c) cancer cells are found in the pelvic peritoneum.
In stage I, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes. Stage I is divided into stage IA, stage IB, and stage IC.
In stage IIA, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread to the uterus and/or the fallopian tubes and/or the ovaries. In stage IIB, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread to the colon. In primary peritoneal cancer, cancer is found in the pelvic peritoneum and has not spread there from another part of the body.
In stage II, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread into other areas of the pelvis, or primary peritoneal cancer is found within the pelvis. Stage II ovarian epithelial and fallopian tube cancers are divided into stage IIA and stage IIB.
Pea, peanut, walnut, and lime show tumor sizes.
In stage III, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes, or is primary peritoneal cancer, and has spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen and/or to nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is divided into stage IIIA, stage IIIB, and stage IIIC.
In stage IIIA, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and (a) cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the area outside or behind the peritoneum only, or (b) cancer cells that can be seen only with a microscope have spread to the omentum. Cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
In stage IIIB, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread to the omentum, and the cancer in the omentum is 2 centimeters or smaller. Cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the peritoneum.
In stage IIIC, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread to the omentum, and the cancer in the omentum is larger than 2 centimeters. Cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the peritoneum or to the surface of the liver or spleen.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body. In stage IVA, cancer cells are found in extra fluid that builds up around the lungs. In stage IVB, cancer has spread to organs and tissues outside the abdomen, including the lung, liver, bone, and lymph nodes in the groin.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body. Stage IV is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB.
Stage I ovarian epithelial and fallopian tube cancers are treated as early cancers.
Stages II, III, and IV ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers are treated as advanced cancers.
Recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. Persistent cancer is cancer that does not go away with treatment.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with ovarian epithelial cancer. Some treatments are standard, and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the treatment currently used as standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients with any stage of ovarian cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.Three kinds of standard treatment are used.Surgery
Most patients have surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Different types of surgery may include:
Hysterectomy. The uterus is surgically removed with or without other organs or tissues. In a total hysterectomy, the uterus and cervix are removed. In a total hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy, (a) the uterus plus one (unilateral) ovary and fallopian tube are removed; or (b) the uterus plus both (bilateral) ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed. In a radical hysterectomy, the uterus, cervix, both ovaries, both fallopian tubes, and nearby tissue are removed. These procedures are done using a low transverse incision or a vertical incision.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).
A type of regional chemotherapy used to treat ovarian cancer is intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. In IP chemotherapy, the anticancer drugs are carried directly into the peritoneal cavity (the space that contains the abdominal organs) through a thin tube.
Treatment with more than one anticancer drug is called combination chemotherapy.
The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, or Primary Peritoneal Cancer for more information.Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is a type of targeted therapy that uses antibodies made in the laboratory, from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody that may be used with chemotherapy to treat ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer that has recurred (come back).
Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors (PARP inhibitors) are targeted therapy drugs that block DNA repair and may cause cancer cells to die. Olaparib and niraparib are PARP inhibitors that may be used to treat advanced ovarian cancer.
See Drugs Approved for Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, or Primary Peritoneal Cancer for more information.New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Some women receive a treatment called intraperitoneal radiation therapy, in which radioactive liquid is put directly in the abdomen through a catheter. Intraperitoneal radiation therapy is being studied to treat advanced ovarian cancer.Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.
Vaccine therapy uses a substance to stimulate the immune system to destroy a tumor. Vaccine therapy is being studied to treat advanced ovarian cancer.Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Treatment of early ovarian epithelial cancer or fallopian tube cancer may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I ovarian epithelial cancer and fallopian tube cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment of advanced ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage II ovarian epithelial cancer, stage III ovarian epithelial cancer, stage IV ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cavity cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment of recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cavity cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
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A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
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PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Ovarian Epithelial, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/patient/ovarian-epithelial-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389163]
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