Peritoneal cancer may refer to cancer that starts in the peritoneum, or a cancer that has occurred somewhere else and has spread to the peritoneum. This article describes the condition in greater detail.
Peritoneum is the thin, delicate, and transparent membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. It secretes a lubricating fluid that helps the organs of the abdominal cavity to move smoothly, when we move. Peritoneum is composed of epithelial cells, the same cells that also line the surface of the ovaries. This is the reason peritoneum cancer is quite similar to the most common type of ovarian cancer, known as epithelial cancer. Primary peritoneal cancer is the cancer that develops in the peritoneal tissues. But when cancer from other parts of the body metastasize into peritoneum, it is referred to as secondary peritoneal cancer.
This cancer is more common among women and elderly. Men rarely develop this type of cancer. The actual causes of primary peritoneal cancer are still unknown, though it is sometimes associated with a defective inherited gene; the same gene which is generally linked to breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
What Indicates Peritoneal Cancer?
Symptoms are usually quite difficult to recognize, especially in the early stage of the peritoneal cancer. In general, its symptoms closely resemble the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Some of the important signs and symptoms of the condition are:
» Loss of appetite
» Abdominal pain, especially in the lower abdomen
» Abdominal discomfort and indigestion
» Feeling satiated even after eating a very light meal
» Nausea and bloating
» Diarrhea or constipation
» Frequent urination
» Unexplained weight gain or loss
» Swelling in the abdomen due to the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity
» Unusual vaginal bleeding
Diagnosis and Treatment
» Diagnosis of peritoneal cancer requires a proper evaluation of the symptoms, physical examination and a number of diagnostic tests. Physicians usually examine the pelvic region of the body to look for any abnormality of the ovaries, uterus, vagina, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum. The different tests and examinations that are performed include ultrasound, CT scan, blood test to measure the level of CA-125 (an antigen that is at an elevated level in case of certain types of cancers), barium enema or lower gastrointestinal series test and biopsy.
» Treatment as well as prognosis depends on the stage at which it gets detected. Other factors taken into account are the patient’s age and their overall health. Generally, peritoneal and ovarian cancer are detected only in the later stages, either at stage 3 or stage 4. When the cancer is confined within the lining of the abdomen, it is termed as stage 3, while stage 4 means that the cancer has spread to other organs such as liver, lungs or the lymph nodes. Depending on the stage at which the cancer is detected, physicians develop an effective cancer treatment plan.
» Typically, the treatment options available for this cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.
• Surgery is performed when there is a pelvic mass, and when the place from where the cancer developed initially is not very clear.
• Chemotherapy, on the other hand, relies on drugs and medications that can inhibit the growth and development of cancerous cells. These medicines are usually given after surgery, especially when it is not possible to remove all the malignant tumors. However, sometimes, chemotherapy can precede surgery, when it is felt that the tumor is too large and hence, quite difficult to remove.
• Occasionally, radiotherapy is also carried out to destroy the cancerous cells with the help of radiation.
Unfortunately, if the cancer is detected in the advanced stage, then the only option left is supportive or palliative care, which aims at alleviating the symptoms, to make the patient as comfortable as possible. Procedures such as abdominal paracentesis may be carried out to drain the abdominal cavity of excess fluid buildup. It life expectancy depends on the stage at which the cancer is detected, as well as the age and overall health condition of the individual. The same factors would also determine survival rate for peritoneal cancer. So, early diagnosis is the most crucial part for effective treatment and to ensure proper recovery.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.