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Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin

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Also called CUP, cancer of unknown primary origin comprises about 2 percent of all cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society.

What is CUP?

Cancer spreads from the part of the body where the cancer started, called the primary site. Sometimes, secondary tumors are found before the primary tumor, and the location where the cancer started can’t be determined. Doctors can identify the tumor as a metastasis, or cells that have spread from elsewhere in the body, because the cells do not look like those of the organ or tissue in which they were found.

Who develops CUP?

Because CUP includes a variety of cancers, identifying characteristics of a typical patient is difficult. However, according to the American Cancer Society, more than half of patients with CUP have a history of smoking.

What are the symptoms of CUP?

Symptoms of CUP vary depending on the organs to which the cancer has spread. Possible symptoms include firm, swollen lymph nodes; an abdominal mass; shortness of breath; bone, chest or abdominal pain; skin tumors; or weakness, fatigue or weight loss.

How is CUP diagnosed?

CUP is usually detected by a biopsy from a part of the body that does not produce the type of cancer found, and no site of origin is identified after testing because it is too small or has disappeared.

How is CUP treated?

Treatment for CUP varies depending on a variety of factors, including the location of the cancer, the most likely primary origin, its stage and your individual health. Because CUP has already spread beyond the primary site, surgery is less likely to be helpful but may be an option if the cancer is found only in one organ. Radiation, chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be used. If the primary origin is likely to be a breast or prostate cancer, hormone therapy may be effective.

To learn more about cancer services at The Daniel and Gloria Blumenthal Cancer Center, call 201-634-5339.

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