Learn more about the different types of ovarian cancer, and subtypes.
Understanding the type of cancer, if it has spread (the stage) and the potential aggressiveness of the cancer (the grade) can help you when discussing your diagnosis and treatment options. However, some women may not wish to know so much detail – it is a personal choice.
There are several different ovarian cancer types, classified by the types of cells and tissue they originate from. Research is beginning to show that the type of ovarian cancer will influence your treatment options in the future.
Types of ovarian cancer
Epithelial ovarian cancer
This is the most common type of ovarian cancer and occurs in around nine out of every 10 cases.
The cancer arises from the cells that line or cover the ovaries (the epithelium).
There are several different subtypes, which can behave and respond differently to treatment:
The most common form of epithelial ovarian cancer (seven out of every 10 epithelial ovarian cancers fall into this category). Serous cancer can either be high grade or low grade.
One in 10 epithelial ovarian cancers will be of the mucinous variety. It is one of the more challenging types of ovarian cancer to treat.
One in 20 epithelial ovarian cancers will be endometrioid. It is more likely to be associated with disease in the womb (endometrium), and can sometimes be found when a woman is diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
This is the least common subtype of epithelial ovarian cancer with just three in 100 cases. It has a tendency to behave aggressively and for this reason pathologists do not tend to give it a grade.
Undifferentiated or unclassified
Many epithelial ovarian cancers (up to one in 10) are termed unclassified or undifferentiated. This is because they have cells that are very underdeveloped, and it is not possible to tell where they have originated.
Primary peritoneal cancer
Primary peritoneal cancer is similar to epithelial ovarian cancer and is usually treated in the same way. However, it does not originate in the ovaries but in the lining of the peritoneum, which means even women who have had their ovaries removed can develop this type of ovarian cancer. Find out more about primary peritoneal cancer.
Borderline tumours are of low malignancy potential. This means they are very slow growing and have not yet begun to spread or damage the tissue around them. They are usually treatable by surgery alone.
Germ cell tumours
About five per cent of ovarian cancers are germ cell tumours - that is around one in 20 cases.
The cancer arises in the cells that form eggs within the ovaries, and tend to be found in younger women.
There are a number of different subtypes of germ cell tumour, which means each subtype is quite rare. Treatment should take place at a centre with expertise in dealing with this particular type of ovarian cancer. When treated by experts, they are normally curable.
Sex cord stromal cell tumours
Sex cord stromal cell tumours account for less than five per cent of ovarian cancer cases. They arise from the connective cells that hold the ovaries together and produce the female hormones.
Rarer types of tumour
These types of ovarian cancer are very rare. They include:
- Endodermal sinus tumours
- Embryonal carcinoma
- Granulosa cell tumours
- Sertoli-Leydig tumours
- Teratoma, immature, mature or mixed
The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.
Last reviewed: February 2013
Next review: Currently under review