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There is a wide variety of different ovarian sex cord-stromal ovarian tumours and they can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). They develop from cells in the core of the ovary that surround the egg cells. 

Ovarian sex cord-stromal tumours are rare, accounting for approximately three to five per cent of all primary ovarian cancers. The majority of ovarian sex cord-stromal tumours (60-95 per cent) are diagnosed at Stage I and treated by surgery alone. When diagnosed at more advanced stages, or if they recur, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy is usually used.


Esther's story

"At 37 years old, Esther didn’t think ovarian cancer was something she had to worry about… Looking back, I didn’t really have all that many symptoms. I’d been to my GP’s surgery on a number of occasions because I was feeling very tired, but they just kept giving me iron tablets."

There are several different subtypes of sex cord ovarian tumours and steroid cell tumours, which can behave and respond differently to treatment:

Ovarian stromal tumours with sex cord elements

Adult type granulosa cell tumours

Granulosa cell tumours mainly occur in adults. They arise from sex cord tumours and stroma (tissue in the ovary that has a connective or structural role). Treatment usually consists of surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible. As the tumours tend to be fairly slow growing they do not tend to respond very well to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Hormonal treatment can also be considered for recurrent cases (if the cancer has come back) when surgery is not an option anymore. 

Juvenile type granulosa cell tumours

Juvenile granulosa cell tumours are granulosa cell tumours which occur at an early age (most commonly in early puberty). These are rare and are different from the granulosa cell tumours seen in adults (see above). If caught at an early stage, the primary treatment is surgery. For tumours diagnosed at a later stage, surgery is often combined with chemotherapy.

Sertoli–Leydig cell tumours (androblastomas)

Sertoli-Leydig tumours are rare sex cord-stromal ovarian tumours, most commonly characterized by virilisation (a condition in which a female develops male sex characteristics eg lower pitch of voice, baldness or thicker body hair) and pelvic masses (lumps) as a result of male hormone (testosterone) production by the tumour. Most Sertoli-Leydig cell tumours are not malignant (cancerous) and can be cured by surgery. Women who are diagnosed at an early stage and who are younger may be able to discuss fertility-preserving surgeries to maintain the possibility of becoming pregnant later on (for more information about this, see our Younger women section). Some women have additional risk factors to consider and should receive chemotherapy and long-term follow up. You should discuss your individual situation and options with your specialist. 

Other types of ovarian stromal tumours with sex cord elements include:

  • Gynandroblastoma
  • Sex cord tumour with annular tubules (SCTAT)
  • ​Unclassified

Pure stromal tumours

  • Thecoma
  • Fibroma
  • ​Fibrosarcoma

Other ovarian stromal tumours

  • Sclerosing stromal tumour
  • Signet-ring stromal
  • Microcystic stromal tumour
  • Ovarian myxoma
  • Stromal–Leydig cell tumour

Steroid cell tumours

  • Stromal luteoma
  • Leydig cell tumour
  • Steroid cell tumour, not otherwise specified

Find out more 

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Last reviewed: June 2018
Next review: May 2021