What is peritoneal cancer?
The peritoneum is a thin tissue that lines the inside wall of the abdomen and covers the uterus, bladder and rectum. It produces fluid to help organs move smoothly inside the abdomen.
Normally, cells in the body will grow and divide to replace old or damaged cells. This growth is usually precise. Once enough cells are produced to replace the old ones, normal cells stop dividing. Tumors occur when there is an error and cells continue to grow uncontrollably. With peritoneal cancer, a tumor develops from this tissue’s epithelial cells (cells that enclose parts of the body). Primary peritoneal cancer begins in the peritoneum. But secondary peritoneal cancer begins in another organ or place in the body and spreads into the peritoneum. Secondary peritoneal cancer is more common.
Primary peritoneal cancer is more common in women and can act like ovarian cancer, produce similar symptoms and is often treated in the same way. Since its symptoms often go undetected, peritoneal cancer is usually diagnosed at a later stage. Successful treatment of this rare cancer depends on age, stage and location of cancer and other factors.
What are the symptoms of peritoneal cancer?
Early symptoms of peritoneal cancer are difficult to detect as they may seem like other conditions. When clear symptoms do occur, the disease has usually progressed. Symptoms will be due to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Frequent urination
- Nausea or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Feeling full even after a light meal
- Abdominal discomfort or pain from gas
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (bleeding between periods or postmenopausal bleeding)
What causes peritoneal cancer?
There are no known causes for peritoneal cancer. However, primary peritoneal cancer is more common in women than in men. Some risk factors for peritoneal cancer can include:
- Age (after menopause for women)
- Women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations
- Women who are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer
How is peritoneal cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor will learn your and your family’s medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may then perform or order one or more of the following tests:
- CT scan
- Pelvic exam
- CA-125 test (blood test for tumor markers)
- Lower GI series (specific X-rays of the colon and rectum)
- Biopsy (removing a tiny piece of tissue for examination)
To learn how severe the cancer may be, your doctor will classify it by stage and grade.
How is peritoneal cancer treated?
Peritoneal cancer treatment can include one or more of the following treatments:
- Radiation Therapy
- Clinical trials (experimental treatments)
- Palliative care (symptom relief)
Your treatment will depend on age, overall health, cancer stage, cancer size and location, as well as other factors.
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