Get to know the causes and treatments of peritoneal cancer

Health focus: Cancer of peritoneum

In this article, you will learn the basic things about cancer of the peritoneum, a rare type of cancer popularly known as primary peritoneal cancer (PPC). First and foremost, let me acquaint you with the peritoneum, the part of the body where primary peritoneal cancer develops. Peritoneum is the membrane that lines the inside of the abdomen. It covers and protects all the internal organs in the abdomen such as the intestines, liver and stomach.  Not only does peritoneum protects the organs, it also helps all the internal organs in the abdomen to move smoothly as you move around. Epithelial cells make up the peritoneum. These cells are found in other parts of the body and it is also present in the lining tissue of the ovaries. This lining tissue forms only small part of the ovaries yet ovarian cancers can still develop on that area.

Since both the peritoneum and ovaries are made of epithelial cells, peritoneal cancer and ovarian cancer behave and are treated very similarly. Ovarian cancer commonly starts to develop in the ovaries and spreads to the peritoneum. In women, primary peritoneal cancer can only be diagnosed once ovarian cancer has been excluded. Peritoneal mesothelioma, another rare type of cancer that commonly occurs in people who have been exposed to asbestos can also affect the lining of the abdomen.

Primary peritoneal cancer is most common in older people and in women, and rarest in men. The symptoms of this rare cancer are quite hard to pinpoint when it is at its early stage. In fact, the causes of primary peritoneal cancer are unknown. There is however a theory that associates primary peritoneal cancer to inherited faulty gene linked to breast cancer. If your family has a history of breast cancer, you should take it as a warning.

The symptoms of primary peritoneal cancer may include unexplained weight gain or weight loss, loss of appetite; vague indigestion, nausea, and bloated feeling; changes in bladder or bowel habits such as constipation, diarrhea and frequent urination; pain to the lower abdomen and swelling in the abdomen. Most women do not experience any of the symptoms for a long time; however, when one or more of these symptoms are experienced, the disease is in all probability at its later stage. Other conditions may cause the symptoms mentioned; nevertheless, if the symptoms last for a few weeks or get worse, a visit to your doctor is very necessary.

It is usually your GP who does the primary check and arranges for you to undergo any necessary tests. Should you need to undergo more tests, your GP will refer you to a specialist, gynecologist, who will conduct other necessary tests and give advice and treatment. Before going through any physical examination, your gynecologist will ask you about your medical history. Your physical examination may include internal (vaginal) examination and sometimes an examination of your rectum. Internal (vaginal) examination is done to check for lumps or swellings. If you would prefer, you can choose to be seen by a female doctor.

To check your general health, your doctor may also arrange for you to undergo chest x-ray and blood test. The blood test is used to check the levels of protein called CA125. Primary peritoneal cancer or ovarian cancer may be present if there is a higher than normal level of CA125. Other tests used to diagnose if cancer of peritoneum is present are ultrasound, vaginal ultrasound, pelvic ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, computerized tomography (CT) scan, laparoscopy, laparotomy, and abdominal fluid aspiration.

Since peritoneal cancer is very similar with ovarian cancer, its staging system is the same as the staging system used for ovarian cancer. There are two types of stages for primary peritoneal cancer and these are: stage 3, when the cancer is present in the lining of the abdomen and stage 4, when the cancer has spread to other organs. Since there are various ways to treat primary peritoneal cancer, it is important for doctors to know the extent of cancer so to decide as to which of the treatment procedures is best for you. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most common treatment procedures used to treat primary peritoneal cancer. You and your doctor must discuss the treatment so that you will have a full understanding of the procedure that you will have to undergo.

When your doctor suggests for you to undergo surgery, it means the doctor will remove as much cancer as possible. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. If there is a risk that some cancer or tumor may have not been removed, then chemotherapy is given. However, it may also be given before a surgery is carried out. If the surgeon feels that the cancer may be difficult to remove, chemotherapy is given so to make the tumor smaller thus easier to remove during surgery. Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It is used to treat individual areas if the disease comes back after surgery or chemotherapy. Regular follow-up appointments with your specialist must be observed after treatment so to monitor how you are recovering.

When you have cancer, you are likely to experience different emotions which may include disbelief, shock, anger and fear. Everyone has their own way of coping with different situations. On occasions, it would be hard to control the emotions but it is important to express them. Help is available if you need it. In this day and age, more and more research into new ways of treating cancer of the peritoneum is unending. Your doctor may ask you to take part in clinical trials conducted to improve ways of treating the disease. Do not fret because each of this clinical trial is studied and before the trial is conducted it must be approved by the ethics committee. If you decide to take part of the clinical trial, you are still allowed to withdraw from it if you may decide to. The best treatment procedure will then be given to you.