Peritoneal cancer is a rare type of cancer that develops in the peritoneum. The peritoneum is located in the abdomen. It is a fine sheath that covers the inside wall of the abdomen. The peritoneum lines the inner abdomen, adhering to and coating the organs within the abdomen, including the stomach, liver, intestines as well as the uterus, bladder and rectum in women.
The peritoneum is responsible for protecting the abdomen. This membrane also excretes a lubricant that helps to get the organs within the abdomen working efficiently. The peritoneum is comprised of epithelial cells. When these cells grow out of control, cancer may develop. Peritoneal cancer predominately affects women but can occasionally affect men as well. This may be due, in part, to the fact that the peritoneum and the ovaries both contain epithelial cells in which cancer can develop. For this reason, peritoneal cancer and ovarian cancer are closely associated and often cared for in the same manner. In addition to peritoneal cancer, there is a similar condition called peritoneal mesothelioma, which is another variety of cancer that attacks the lining of the abdomen. Peritoneal mesothelioma, however, is extremely rare, even more so than peritoneal cancer, and only effects those who have been exposed to high levels of asbestos.
The symptoms of peritoneal cancer may not appear right away, and some individuals who present with the disease show no symptoms whatsoever. Some symptoms can mimic those of other medical condition. It is important to report any changes and/or symptoms to your doctor immediately, as symptoms of peritoneal cancer may not appear until the disease is already in an advanced stage. Symptoms of peritoneal cancer may include:
- Generalized pain in the abdomen.
- Indigestion, bloating or other gastrointestinal changes.
- Vomiting or nausea.
- Unexplained bleeding from the vagina.
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
- Sensation of feeling full.
- Little or no appetite.
Causes And Risk Factors
There is no known cause for peritoneal cancer and there are very few risk factors associated with the disease. It is thought that age may play a role in the development of the disease because this type of cancer is more commonly diagnosed in older people. Being a woman also increases your risk of peritoneal cancer since the disease rarely affects men. In addition, genetic predisposition may be a factor because certain genetic mutations can sometimes play a role in the development of certain cancers. It is estimated that only a small number of people diagnosed with peritoneal cancer have a genetic component.
Screening And Diagnosis
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with peritoneal cancer, your doctor will likely require you to submit to further diagnostic testing. Your doctor will begin with a comprehensive medical evaluation and routine blood work to evaluate the condition of your overall health. The blood test will likely include a screening for specific proteins within the bloodstream that may indicate that cancer is present. In addition to blood tests, your doctors will likely use imaging tests, such as CT scans, vaginal or abdominal ultrasound, MRI scans or pelvic ultrasounds to scan for the presence of peritoneal cancer. In addition, it may be necessary to have fluid drawn from your abdomen with a needle aspiration. Peritoneal cancer sometimes causes an excess of fluid in the abdomen. If fluid is present, your doctor will test it for the presence of cancer cells. A laparoscopy may also be necessary. During this procedure, your doctor will surgically view and remove tissue surrounding the peritoneum or ovaries and have the tissue tested for the presence of cancer cells.
Treatment for peritoneal cancer will be started once your doctor can determine how advanced the cancer is and whether or not it has metastasized or spread to other organs or areas of the body. Typically, treatment includes surgery and/or chemotherapy. Surgery may not only be helpful in treating the disease but may be necessary in diagnosing it. Surgery will be used to eliminate as much of the cancer as can be removed. It may be necessary to have much of the peritoneum removed, as well as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus or lymph nodes, depending on how advanced the cancer is. Chemotherapy is commonly used following surgery. It is a drug that is administered to kill off cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be utilized before surgery if the location of the tumor will be difficult to surgically remove.
Unfortunately, peritoneal cancer is often not diagnosed until the disease is advanced and has spread to other areas of the body. Prognosis is dependent upon the stage of the cancer and whether or not treatment is successful. For those patients with advanced peritoneal cancer, supportive care may be effective in relieving some of the symptoms of late stage cancer when the person is too ill to withstand treatment. Supportive care may help the patient to cope with the pain and weight loss associated with late stage cancer. Additionally, peritoneal cancer often recurs and additional treatment will be necessary in that instance, thus changing the patient’s initial prognosis.
Once your treatment is complete, you will need to make regular trips to your doctor to monitor any new symptoms and watch for the recurrence of any cancer cells. During the duration of your screening, diagnosis, and treatment of peritoneal cancer you will likely experience a wide range of emotions, all of which are normal. Seek out the comfort of additional support from family, friends or professionals during this difficult time.