The Different Types of Ovarian Cancers

22 Jun 2020

Like most cancers, when you hear the term ovarian cancer, most of us tend to think it’s a single disease and of course, is a malignancy in the ovaries.

There are, however, several different types of ovarian cancer, which first develop in different parts of the ovaries, and are largely a result of differences in age groups, and the genetic makeup of the patient. As a result, treatment options may vary greatly too.

The Most Common Type of Ovarian Cancer
Epithelial is the most common type of ovarian cancer and accounts for approximately 80 per cent of all ovarian malignancies. Epithelial cancer tends to impact women who are over the age of 50 and arise from the surface layer of cells covering the uterus. Within this category of ovarian cancer, there are subgroups, with serous tumours being the most common.

Traditionally, epithelial ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, although hormone therapy may also be prescribed, as and when required.

Another type of epithelial ovarian cancer is called endometrioid, which is the same kind of cancer that can be found in the lining of the uterus as well. This type or tumour can occasionally be associated with endometriosis, although most women with endometriosis do not have this malignancy.

The third type of epithelial ovarian is called mucinous which make mucous-like fluid and are believed to develop from the glands that are around the ovary.

Beyond Epithelial
The other group of ovarian cancers are called sex cord-stromal tumours and come from the stroma, which is the supporting structure around the ovary. These types of cancers account for approximately 3 to 5 per cent of all primary ovarian cancers, and most are diagnosed at an early stage and can be treated with surgery alone when caught early enough.

Whilst there are several types of sex cord-stromal tumours, the most common is called granulosa or theca cell tumour. Unlike epithelial tumours, these tumours usually develop in women in their 30’s and 40’s, but can on occasion develop in older women, or even young girls.

According to medical experts, these tumours tend to make hormones such as estrogen, and they can actually cause a uterine cancer by secreting a lot of it.

When a woman has both a mass and bleeding, doctors consider the possibility of this type of ovarian tumour. A blood test will reveal whether a woman is producing a high level of a substance called inhibin, which in turn indicates a sex cord-stromal tumour.

The Third Category  
The final group of ovarian cancer tumours are germ cell tumours, they account for about 5 per cent of all primary ovarian cancer diagnoses. These tumours arise in the ovarian cells that develop eggs and tend to develop in younger girls and women in their early twenties.

Most germ cell ovarian tumours are diagnosed early and treated with surgery. Chemotherapy isn’t generally necessary unless the cancer is at a later stage.

When you’re diagnosed with an ovarian cancer, it’s important to understand the type of ovarian cancer you and your medical team are dealing with for several reasons:

    • It helps doctors know how best to treat the cancer, in terms of the type of surgery required
    • When chemotherapy is recommended, the type of tumour helps determine which type of chemotherapy or immunotherapy will work best
    • And it’s important for women to know what kind of tumour they have so they can learn about their genetic risk and that of other family members.