Hearing you have cancer can be shocking and many times, it is almost impossible to hear any more information from your medical team at that point. And in those first moments and days, the finer details — from how a diagnosis was made to treatment options — can be murky, at best. Here is more information designed to help you understand cancer and your specific tumor type. This will hopefully help you learn what questions to ask your medical team and what to expect in the days and months ahead
Learn about the types of ovarian cancer
There are several subtypes of ovarian cancer, many of which are thought to first develop in the fallopian tubes. Ovarian cancers are typically divided into epithelial ovarian cancers (cancer of the fallopian tubes and primary peritoneal cancer are also often grouped with epithelial ovarian cancer) and non-epithelial types, which each contain several subtypes. Your subtype will play an important role in your plans for treatment and care.
What are the subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer?
- High-grade serous ovarian cancer
- Low-grade serous ovarian cancer
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Endometrioid carcinoma
- Mucinous carcinoma
- Borderline endometrioid tumors
What are the subtypes of non-epithelial ovarian cancer?
Germ cell ovarian cancers include:
- Immature teratomas
- Yolk sac tumors
Stromal cell ovarian cancers include:
- Granulosa cell tumors
- Sertoli-Leydig tumors
More rare ovarian cancer subtypes include:
- Small cell carcinoma of the ovary
- Ovarian carcinosarcoma
Learn about other gynecologic cancers
Gynecologic cancers affect different parts of the female reproductive system, which consists of the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus and uterine endometrium, vagina, and vulva, as well as external genital organs and glands.
Though all of these parts share a relatively small space within the body, the cancer cells associated with each area are unique — and in some cases, cells from one region can interact with another region’s cells, producing various types and subtypes of each distinct disease.
Because of this shared environment, many researchers, and OCRA, see promise in studying the female reproductive environment as a whole, and believe that better understanding other gynecologic cancers may ultimately lead to improved understanding, treatment, and prevention of ovarian cancer.
Learn how ovarian cancer is diagnosed
Your doctor may perform several tests if they suspect ovarian cancer, but a diagnosis can only be confirmed through surgical biopsy. Initial tests may include a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and/or computerized tomography (CT) scan, both imaging tests, which will allow the doctor to see if there is a mass in the ovaries or pelvic region. A CA-125 blood test may also be performed, as a way to measure a protein that is often elevated in people with ovarian cancer — but a CA-125 blood test alone cannot diagnose the disease, as this protein can be elevated by benign conditions as well.
If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, it is strongly recommended that surgery be performed by a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating gynecologic cancers. A gynecologic oncologist is best equipped to perform successful debulking surgery, which is a procedure intended to surgically remove as much of the cancer as possible before beginning the next phase of treatment. During surgery, the gynecologic oncologist will determine the cancer’s stage. Afterward, a sample will be sent to the lab to determine specific cancer type.
Need help finding a gynecologic oncologist? Use the Foundation for Women’s Cancer’s tool to find a gynecologic oncologist near you.
Learn who treats ovarian cancer
Your treatment plan will be decided in consultation with your gynecologic oncologist. They will help you understand more about your cancer stage, subtype, and recommended treatment, as well as side effects that may come along with treatment. Taking in this information can feel overwhelming, but it’s important that you understand your diagnosis and treatment plan. If you can, bring someone along to your appointments who can help you ask questions, write down information, and provide support. Resources are also available for managing side effects, so be sure to ask about palliative care. Palliative care is different from hospice care, and can help you maintain good quality of life as you undergo treatment.
The National Cancer Institute designates 50+ institutions as comprehensive cancer centers, recognizing them for meeting top standards in research, treatment, prevention, and education. View a list of designated comprehensive cancer centers.