Are there different types of ovarian cancer?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Ovarian cancer develops when the cells of the ovary undergo DNA changes which cause them to divide too rapidly. The most common type of ovarian tumor forms when ovarian epithelial cells become abnormal. Normally, these cells form the outermost ovarian tissue layer. Germ cell and stromal tumors come from cells located inside the ovary. Normally, germ cells can change and develop into eggs, while stromal cells produce hormones.

Dr. Barbara A. Goff, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist

There are three main types of ovarian cancer, which arise from different cell types in the ovary. The most common is epithelial cancer, which arises from the cells that line the outside of the ovary. The epithelial cancers account for about 80 to 85 percent of cancers arising from the ovary. These tumors can occur in women age 20 to 80 but the peak age for diagnosis is about 60. This type of ovarian cancer is the most difficult to diagnose and treat. The second most common type of ovarian cancer is germ cell malignancies. These tumors arise from the actual eggs in the ovary and account for about 10 percent of ovarian cancers. These cancers usually occur in young girls and women under age 30. The third type of ovarian cancer is the sex cord stromal tumors. These tumors arise from the cells that make the hormones of the ovary and so they often cause abnormal bleeding, irregular periods or the development of facial hair. These tumors account for about 5 percent of ovarian cancers. These cancers can occur at any time in a woman's life.

There are more than 30 ovarian cancer types. They are grouped into three categories based on where they begin growing in the ovary:

  • Epithelial ovarian cancer originates in the layer of cells that cover the ovary and the entire abdominal cavity. This is the most common ovarian cancer type, accounting for roughly 90 percent of all cases.
  • Germ cell ovarian cancer begins in the egg-producing cells inside the ovaries. Teens and women in their 20s are more likely to have this type of ovarian cancer.
  • Sex cord-stromal ovarian cancer originates in the connective tissue of the ovaries, which also produces the female sex hormones.

All three ovarian cancer types may also spread to other areas of the body, referred to as metastatic ovarian cancer.

There are three different types of ovarian cancer. Most cancers of the ovary (about 90 percent) come from the out-of-control growth of cells that make up the outer lining of the ovary. These are called epithelial ovarian cancers.

Although most epithelial ovarian cancers occur in women without a family history of the disease, about 10 to 15 percent of women with ovarian epithelial cancer have other family members who also had the same cancer or have a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and/or colon cancer.

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