What Is Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin?
Each of the body’s tissues is a collection of cells working together to contribute to the healthy functioning of the body. Cancer is disease characterized by unregulated cell division in which abnormal cells may invade and destroy normal body tissues. Many different types of cancers are described by the organ in which they develop, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, etc.
When a cancer is described as having an unknown primary origin, this means that although cancer cells have been found in the body, it is unknown where the cancer began to form. Since cancer of unknown primary origin only describes a cancer without a known starting point, two cancers of unknown primary origin can be quite different. Cancer without a known origin—much like cancer itself—is not a single disease.
Cancer of unknown primary origin is also referred to as “cancer of unknown primary” and often abbreviated as “CUP.”
What Causes Cancer of Unknown Primary?
Cancer develops as a result of changes to the genetic material within cells. These changes result in the pattern of cell growth and division characteristic of cancer. Since cancer without a known origin is not a single disease, physicians and scientists cannot be specific about the causes of cancer of unknown primary. Cancers, however, generally form as a result of some combination of contributing genetic, environmental, and/or lifestyle factors. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- Alcohol use
- Being obese or overweight
- Certain genetic mutations and/or other abnormalities
- Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens)
- Exposure to radiation
- Family history of cancer
- Immune system impairment
- Personal history of cancer
- Physical inactivity
- Smoking cigarettes
How Is Cancer of Unknown Primary Detected?
Our specialists collect information regarding medical history, surgical history, social history, and family history; conduct laboratory testing; and review radiological studies to approach patient care in the most comprehensive and personalized manner.
If cancer is suspected, a doctor will likely order an imaging study to help arrive at a diagnosis. Imaging studies might include a CT scan, PET scan, PET-CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI. A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to generate a three-dimensional picture of the body whereas a PET (positron emission tomography) scan uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to locate any cancer cells by how readily they take up the radiotracer. A PET-CT combines the features of CT scan with those of a PET scan. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic fields to generate a detailed representation of the body. Lastly, an ultrasound sends sound waves through the body to generate images of the body’s organs and tissues.
If upon review of your results your doctor notices a mass suspicious for cancer, he or she will likely order a biopsy in order to make a diagnosis and plan treatment, if necessary.
Stages of Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin
“Staging” occurs when a physician uses test and scan results to determine which parts of the body are involved by cancer. Staging is important because different stages of cancer are better addressed with treatments which may differ in amount, combination, or type. However, no staging system currently exists for cancer of unknown primary origin because for cancer of unknown primary origin, as opposed to other forms of cancer, a consensus has not been reached as to where the cancer began its development. Regardless, your doctor may still use information from imaging (discussed in the previous section) to plan treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Cancer
The following may be indicative of cancer but may also be indicative of other illnesses:
- Abnormal, unexplainable weight loss
- Bump or bumps on the skin
- Changes in bowel movement patterns
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty urinating
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Loss of appetite
- Low red blood cell count
- Night sweats
- Sensation of a mass
It is important you tell your doctor if you have any of these signs and symptoms, so he or she may determine their cause and plan treatment, if necessary.
How Is Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin Treated?
Treatment of cancer, depending on the stage and type, may include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery. These treatments may be used individually or in combination based on your doctor’s recommendations. It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important factors to consider when deciding on a cancer treatment plan include
- Your age, health, and lifestyle.
- The stage of your cancer.
- Any other serious health conditions you have.
- Your feelings about the need to treat the cancer right away
- Your doctor’s opinion about if you need to treat the cancer right away
- The likelihood that treatment will help fight or cure your cancer
- Possible side effects from each treatment method
You may feel the need to make a quick decision, but it is very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. It is very important for you and your doctor to communicate and work together to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible adverse effects and to ultimately determine what treatment option is best for you.
NYCBS Clinical Trials in Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, contact New York Cancer and Blood Specialist today at (855) 528-7322 to learn more.