What is peritoneal carcinomatosis?

Peritoneal carcinomatosis is a type of secondary cancer that affects the lining of the abdominal cavity, called the peritoneum. It occurs when cancer metastasizes from another part of the body and implants itself in the lining. Peritoneal carcinomatosis most commonly follows severe or untreated pancreatic, ovarian, stomach, and colon cancer. Symptoms can vary, but many people experience extreme fatigue and abdominal pain. Prompt and aggressive treatment in the form of medications and surgery is vital to prevent fatal complications.

Some cancers are more likely to metastasize quickly to the peritoneum than others. Not surprisingly, tumors in organs that are within or adjacent to the abdominal cavity have the highest risk of developing peritoneal carcinomatosis. People who have widespread cancer in their stomachs and intestines are at especially high risk, especially if they cause ulcers and ruptures. Ovarian, liver, and pancreatic cancer are also known for their rapid spread. Occasionally, a distant tumor in the abdomen or bone cancer can lead to peritoneal carcinomatosis after cancer cells invade the lymph nodes and bloodstream.

The most common symptoms of peritoneal carcinomatosis include acute or chronic pain, cramps, swelling, and full-body fatigue. Many symptoms are caused when excess fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity, a direct consequence of nearby tumor activity. Other problems, such as breathing difficulties, digestive problems, and chest pains, may also occur, depending on the extent and location of the original cancer.

In most cases, doctors already know that patients have primary cancers before they develop peritoneal carcinomatosis. Most people are already receiving some type of cancer treatment for metastasis. Ultrasounds and CT scans are taken to look for signs of tumors, fluid buildup, and damaged tissue in the abdominal cavity. If anything suspicious is found, a tissue biopsy may be needed to confirm that it is cancer. Treatment decisions are made immediately to give patients the best chance of recovery.

Surgery is the treatment of choice when tumors are small and isolated to the peritoneum. If an entire tumor can be removed and the primary cancer treated effectively, the patient has a good prognosis. Cancers in their later stages are usually treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Even when treatment appears to be successful, the condition can become a recurring problem. Regular checkups and exams are vital elements of follow-up care to ensure future problems are kept to a minimum.

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