Peritoneal Cancer

Peritoneal Cancer Awareness and Prevention

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Peritoneal cancer is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the membrane that lines the abdomen, known as the peritoneum. The peritoneum surrounds and protects the abdominal organs, and it produces a fluid that allows the organs to move smoothly.

Peritoneal cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages because the symptoms are vague and resemble those of other conditions. Once symptoms of peritoneal cancer appear, the cancer is already in an advanced stage.

Symptoms of Peritoneal Cancer

When peritoneal cancer symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Abdominal discomfort and pain, such as bloating, cramps, gas, indigestion, pressure, or swelling
  • Frequent urination
  • Digestive changes such as constipation, diarrhea, or nausea
  • Loss of appetite or feeling of fullness when eating
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain

As peritoneal cancer worsens, fluid (ascites) can build up in the abdomen, causing:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal distention
  • Lower back pain

In its later stages, peritoneal cancer can cause symptoms such as:

  • Urinary or bowel blockage
  • Stomach pain
  • Inability to drink or eat
  • Vomiting

Causes and Risk Factors of Peritoneal Cancer

Although the specific causes are unknown, peritoneal cancer occurs when epithelial cells in the peritoneum begin to grow out of control.

Primary Peritoneal Cancer

Primary peritoneal cancer starts in the peritoneum and almost exclusively develops in women. Primary peritoneal cancer is similar to the most common type of ovarian cancer, called epithelial ovarian cancer. Peritoneal cancer can occur even when the ovaries have been removed.

Risk factors for primary peritoneal cancer include:

  • Age
  • Family history of ovarian or peritoneal cancer
  • Genetic mutations known as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Hormone replacement therapy, taken after menopause
  • Obesity or excess weight
  • Tall height
  • Endometriosis

Secondary Peritoneal Cancer

Secondary peritoneal cancer starts in another abdominal organ and spreads (metastasizes) to the peritoneum. The secondary type is more common than the primary type and affects both women and men.

Secondary peritoneal cancer has the same type of cancer cells as the original cancer, which can originate in organs such as the stomach, small/large intestines, appendix, and ovaries.

Preventing Peritoneal Cancer

It’s not always possible to prevent cancer, but certain steps can help reduce the risk of developing primary peritoneal cancer. At UT Southwestern Medical Center, our cancer specialists recommend habits that enhance overall health, such as:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Regular physical activity
  • Healthy diet