Peritoneal Cancer

The peritoneum is the sheet of tissue that lines the abdominal cavity and supports the abdominal organs, protecting them and preventing them from sticking together. Abnormal growth of peritoneal cells may be a condition called primary peritoneal cancer. This is a rare form of cancer that can occur anywhere in the abdomen and can affect the organ that the cancerous peritoneum is covering.

Causes of Peritoneal Cancer

No single cause of primary peritoneal cancer has been identified. It is more commonly seen in elderly women and may also be linked with a family history of ovarian or breast cancer.

Symptoms of Peritoneal Cancer

There are no specific symptoms in the early stages of peritoneal cancer, so this type of cancer is most frequently found as a result of gastrointestinal symptoms that occur when the cancer is quite advanced.

Symptoms of advanced peritoneal cancer may include:

  • Feelings of fullness and bloating
  • A change in bowel habits
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intestinal blockage
  • In rare cases, vaginal bleeding

Diagnosing Peritoneal Cancer

Peritoneal cancer is usually found when a woman visits the doctor because of gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating. The bloating is caused by fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity. This condition is called ascites.

Diagnosis of peritoneal cancer may involve:

  • CT scan – identifies ascites and tumors in a fatty layer within the abdomen called the omentum
  • Paracentesis – removal of abdominal fluid for evaluation
  • Blood tests – levels of cancer antigen 125 (CA-125) found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells may indicate ovarian cancer

Because primary peritoneal cancer cells look identical to epithelial ovarian cancer cells under a microscope, a definitive diagnosis may not be possible without surgery.

Treating Peritoneal Cancer

Treatment for primary peritoneal cancer is the same as treating epithelial ovarian cancer.  The options available for treatment depend on the size and location of the cancer, the age and overall health of the patient, and how extensively the cancer has spread throughout the body.