Risk factors for fallopian tube cancer

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. But sometimes fallopian tube cancer develops in women who don’t have any of the risk factors described below.

Most women who develop fallopian tube cancer are between the ages of 40 and 60 years, with an average age of 55 years.

The risk factors of fallopian tube cancer are poorly understood. Because it is such a rare cancer, fairly common conditions are unlikely risk factors. But fallopian tube cancer and epithelial ovarian carcinoma share many of the same risk factors. Some experts think that this may be because some epithelial ovarian carcinomas can begin in a fallopian tube.

Some women can have a higher than average risk for fallopian tube cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need a personal plan for testing.

Risk factors are generally listed in order from most to least important. But in most cases, it is impossible to rank them with absolute certainty.

Known risk factors

There is convincing evidence that the following factors increase your risk for fallopian tube cancer.

Family history of certain cancers

Sometimes fallopian tube cancer develops in a family more often than would be expected by chance. It may not be clear if the family’s pattern of cancer is due to chance, shared lifestyle factors, a genetic risk passed from parents to children or a combination of these factors. If several of your relatives have breast, ovarian or fallopian tube cancer, you can have a higher risk of developing fallopian tube cancer.

BRCA gene mutations

Breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) normally help control the growth of cancer cells. Changes in these genes (which can be inherited from either parent) increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancers. These changes also increase the risk for fallopian tube cancer. But not all women with BRCA gene mutations will develop fallopian tube cancer.

Fallopian tube cancer is likely linked to an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation if the woman has:

  • several family members with breast, ovarian or fallopian tube cancer
  • one or more female relatives who developed breast cancer before they were 50 years of age
  • a relative with both breast and ovarian cancer
  • family members who developed cancer in both breasts (called bilateral breast cancer)
  • a male relative with breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry

Women with fallopian tube cancer related to a BRCA gene mutation also have a higher than average risk of developing breast, ovarian and other cancers. Talk to your doctor about your risks. Genetic risk assessment and genetic testing may be an option for some women.

Possible risk factors

The following factors have been linked with fallopian tube cancer, but there is not enough evidence to show they are known risk factors. More research is needed to clarify the role of these factors for fallopian tube cancer.

Hormone replacement therapy

Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) is used to manage the symptoms of menopause (such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings).

Research information about HRT and the incidence of primary fallopian tube cancer is limited because of the few cases of this type of cancer. Information that has been collected shows that HRT may increase the risk of fallopian tube cancer.

Never giving birth

Research studies have shown that never giving birth may increase a woman’s risk of developing fallopian tube cancer. Fallopian tube cancer is seen in women with a history of infertility (inability to conceive).

Unknown risk factors

It isn’t known whether or not chronic inflammation of the fallopian tubes is linked with fallopian tube cancer. It may be that researchers can’t show a definite link or that studies have had different results. Although inflammation is often present with fallopian tube cancer, chronic inflammation of the fallopian tubes (called salpingitis) usually involves both tubes while the inflammation associated with fallopian tube cancer is usually just in the tube with cancer. More research is needed to see if chronic inflammation of the fallopian tubes is a risk factor for fallopian tube cancer.

Questions to ask your healthcare team

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about risks.

Expert review and references

  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Peritoneal Cancer. 2016: http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/view-all.
  • Black D, Barakat RR . Fallopian tube cancer. Raghavan D, Blanke CD, Honson DH, et al (eds.). Textbook of Uncommon Cancer. 4th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2012: 38: 531 - 539.
  • Cannistra SA, Gershenson DM, Recht A . Ovarian cancer, fallopian tube carcinoma, and peritoneal carcinoma. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 76: 1075-1099.
  • Koskela-Niska V, Pukkala, Lyytinen H, Ylikorkala O, Dyba T . Postmenopausal hormone therapy-also use of estradiol plus levonorgestrel-intrauterine system is associated with an increased risk of primary fallopian tube carcinoma. International Journal of Cancer. 2015: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=25846583.
  • National Cancer Institute. Ovarian Epithelial, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Treatment for Health Professionals (PDQ®). 2016: https://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/hp/ovarian-epithelial-treatment-pdq.
  • Vicus D, Finch A, Rosen B, et al . Risk factors for carcinoma of the fallopian tube in women with and without a germline BRCA mutation. Gynecologic Oncology. Academic Press; 2009.

Reducing your risk for fallopian tube cancer

You may lower your risk of developing fallopian tube cancer by doing the following.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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