Ovarian Cancer Types

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
September 15, 2021
Woman with hands on lower back, mid section --- Image by © Odilon Dimier/PhotoAlto/Corbis

There are more than 30 different ovarian cancer types, mostly named after the type of cell where the cancer began. Here’s what you should know about the types.

Ovarian cancer is rare, and no ovarian cancer is the same as another. That’s why every patient will have a treatment plan based on her situation.

Up to 90 percent of cancerous tumors in the ovaries begin in the outer layer of the ovary, or epithelial cells.

Cancers may also begin in germ cells, which eventually become eggs, or in the area that produces and release hormones, the stromal cells.

Altogether there are more than 30 ovarian cancer types. Around 70 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer eventually see the cancer come back after treatment, typically again in the ovaries or around the abdomen and pelvis, where it can cause gastrointestinal and urinary symptoms, swelling, pain, and fatigue. Annual pelvic exams will help catch a recurrence quickly. Today, more people are living with ovarian cancer, even after it has recurred. It’s important to realize that even women diagnosed with advanced case may survive this cancer, and some 20 percent do not have a recurrence.


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Ovarian epithelial cancer

Tumors in the ovarian epithelial cells often are benign. Sometimes abnormal cells that form in the epithelial cells become malignant, but then they grow slowly and don’t spread beyond the ovary. This ovarian cancer type tends to affect younger women and responds well to treatment.

Other subtypes are more dangerous. They spread to the lungs, liver, and possibly the brain, bones, and skin. These include mucinous, endometrioid, clear cell, and undifferentiated ovarian epithelial cancer.

Two rare cancers are treated in much the same way as ovarian epithelial cancer: Fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal carcinoma, which begins in the lining of the pelvis and abdomen.

Germ cell tumors

Again, most tumors in the egg-producing germ cells are benign. Egg cells turn cancerous most often in teens and women in their 20s. The good news is that 90 percent of patients with ovarian germ cell malignancies can be cured and remain fertile. The most common type of germ cell ovarian cancer is dysgerminoma, which doesn’t usually grow or spread quickly. Another subtype — teratomas — may be either benign or malignant. Rarely, tumors begin in the placenta during pregnancy (choriocarcinoma) or in the yolk sac (endodermal sinus tumor).

Sex cord-stromal tumors

These tumors account for only 1 percent of ovarian cancers. They begin in the cells that produce estrogen and progesterone and can cause abnormal bleeding. The subtypes here include granulosa cell tumors, granulosa-theca tumors, and Sertoli-Leydig tumors.

  • Other less common ovarian cancer types Ovarian sarcomas. These develop in the connective tissues of ovarian cells. They include carcinosarcomas, adenosarcomas, leiomyosarcomas, and fibrosarcomas.
  • Krukenberg tumors. Cancer may spread to the ovaries from another part of the body, most often the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Ovarian cysts. Fluid-filled sacs, or cysts, are common during ovulation and generally benign. Occasionally they develop into a cancer.


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September 15, 2021

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell