Carcinoma of Unknown Primary (CUP)

What is Carcinoma of Unknown Primary?

Carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP) occurs when the cancer metastatic location site is unknown. CUP is treated by a large team of specialists. This is because the primary source of cancer must be located and eliminated. Completely caring for a patient who has a carcinoma of unknown primary requires great skill and is typically handled by an oncology, or cancer team.

If the location of the unknown primary is located, the team will immediately direct treatment to that location in an effort to stop it from spreading further. Since carcinoma of unknown primary can be extremely stressful on the patient and family, the majority of patients are referred to a counselor to help them manage the emotional strain.

What are the Symptoms of Carcinoma of Unknown Primary?

The symptoms of carcinoma of unknown primary will differ from person to person. It will also depend on where the cancer originated and where it spread to.

Symptoms include

  • Inflamed and lymph nodes, usually not painful.
  • A mass in the stomach area that can be felt from the outside.
  • Unusual feeling of being full after a small amount of food.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the chest
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Pain in the bones or muscles
  • Weakness
  • Easy fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain

Even though these symptoms are related to this disease, they are not an automatic indicator that the disease is present. Unfortunately, the symptoms mimic many other health conditions, so the disorder is usually caught during routine physical examinations.

Carcinoma of Unknown Primary Causes

The causes of carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP) are largely unknown – because the cancer that is found is secondary, having spread from an unknown primary location, it is hard to say what the cause is.

Researchers suggest looking at cancer as a broader topic to identify the possible causes. As a class of disease, cancer encompasses more than 200 primary diseases, which means isolating the specific root disease is almost impossible. For that reason, identifying any single cause is equally difficult.

Even speaking in a more general sense, there can be any number of causes for each type of cancer, For instance, we know that tobacco smoking causes lung cancer, but that’s not to say there aren’t other contaminants equally responsible for causing lung cancer. Another example might be skin cancer, which we know can be caused by ultraviolet rays.

Ultimately, the cause of most forms of cancer is the combination of a number of different factors. Our genetic make up, environment, and lifestyle may all play a part in determining our risk for contracting cancer.

How is Carcinoma of Unknown Primary Treated?

After diagnosis, your doctor will carefully weigh your treatment options and determine the best course of treatment for your specific situation. There are several things that your doctor must take into consideration when creating your care plan.

Factors include

  • The number of places your carcinoma of unknown primary has spread to.
  • The size of the cancerous tumors.
  • Which organs have been affected by the tumors.
  • Your current state of health.

Usually, when cancer of unknown primary is located treatment will occur.

Treatment includes

  • Surgery to remove the tumors that are present.
  • Chemotherapy to kill off the cancerous cells in your body so that they do not spread any further.
  • Radiation therapy, which is usually focused in the areas where tumors have been located.
  • Proton therapies, which are similar to radiation therapy. However, the treatment is stronger and does not damage as much healthy tissue.

Carcinoma of Unknown Primary Prevention

As mentioned above, CUP is an all-inclusive category of cancer, so prevention is impossible at present. However, there are certain lifestyle changes that can help one reduce the risk of contracting cancer in general. For instance, current research suggests that one-third of cancer deaths are related to tobacco smoking, so quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risks of contracting cancer of most types.

Physical fitness is thought to have equal bearing on contracting cancer, with obese individuals also having a one in three chance of dying from a cancer-related illness. By adopting a healthier lifestyle that incorporates frequent physical activity and a well-balanced diet, one can significantly reduce the risk of contracting CUP and cancer in general.

As CUP can’t be linked to any one causal factor, it’s impossible to narrow the research down to identifying a specific type of risk factors. In many cases, these cancer patients couldn’t have done anything to prevent the disease.

Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
November 28, 2017
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