Types of ovarian cancer

When you receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis, your medical team will aim to identify the type and subtype of ovarian cancer.

Understanding the type of cancer (the histotype) can help you when discussing your diagnosis, treatment and prognosis with your specialist. However, some women may not wish to know so much detail – it's a personal choice.

There are several different ovarian cancer types, classified by the types of cells and tissue they originate from. Your age can affect your susceptibility to these different types of ovarian tumours, and the type of ovarian cancer you have may influence your treatment options now and in the future.

Ovarian tumours tend to develop from three kinds of tissue.

Approximately 90 per cent come from epithelial cells, which form the surface layer covering the ovaries. Epithelial cell tumours (sometimes referred to as carcinomas) usually occur in women older than 50 years.

Five per cent come from the germ cells. Germ cells in the ovary are the cells that develop into eggs. Germ cell tumours usually occur in younger women.

Around five per cent come from the stromal cells (these cells make up the core of the ovaries). Stromal cell tumours may occur in women of any age although certain tumours may be more common in adolescence. Granulosa cell tumours are an example of a stromal cancer.

There are also rarer types of ovarian cancer, for example sarcomas, which arise from the connective tissue within the ovary.

A close-up illustration of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb and vagina
A close-up illustration of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb and vagina

Some cancer is now being categorised as fallopian tube cancer as opposed to ovarian cancer as recent research revealed that some ovarian cancers in fact start growing from the fallopian tubes. Fallopian tube cancer is treated in the same way as ovarian cancer and is usually included in ovarian cancer clinical trials.

Women diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer (PPC) that arises in the peritoneum (a large, thin, flexible sheet of transparent tissue that covers the organs inside your tummy/abdomen) are also often treated in the same way as women with ovarian cancer as it is believed to be the same disease.  


Last reviewed: June 2018

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