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Carcinoma of Unknown Primary Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Newly Diagnosed Carcinoma of Unknown Primary

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Isolated Axillary-Nodal Metastasis

The most common primary site for isolated axillary metastasis is the breast. Mammography should be performed in all patients with isolated axillary-nodal metastasis. After an adequate evaluation of the breast and lung to rule out these primary sites, the following treatment options should be considered:

  • Lymph node dissection with or without mastectomy or radiation therapy to the breast with curative intent.[14]
  • Lymph node dissection with or without mastectomy or radiation therapy to the breast with curative intent plus adjuvant chemotherapy with an accepted therapeutic adjuvant approach for breast cancer. This option should be considered especially if breast cancer is proven or if other lymph nodes show adenocarcinoma.[15]

Inguinal Node Metastasis

Metastatic carcinoma in inguinal nodes from an unknown primary source occurs in approximately 1% to 3.5% of patients. A diagnostic excisional-node biopsy should be performed when no primary source of carcinoma can be found. The most common pathologic diagnosis in this instance is Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with CUP being less frequent.

Treatment options:

  • Superficial groin dissection alone.
  • Local excisional biopsy with or without radiation, inguinal node dissection, or chemotherapy.

In a small proportion of patients, local excision alone is sufficient therapy. Initial therapy with radiation may be used successfully in some patients, depending on extent of disease and individual patient characteristics. Isolated metastases also present in the central nervous system, liver, and genitourinary tract.[16] More information can be found in the PDQ summaries for these malignancies.

Melanoma (Melanotic or Amelanotic) Occurring in a Single Nodal Site

Approximately 5% of patients present with no detectable primary site.

Treatment option:

  • Radical lymph node dissection. For patients who present with a single site of nodal metastasis, this treatment will yield a survival that is slightly better than that obtained in conventional stage II melanoma.

Multiple Involvement

When patients present with widespread metastatic disease and special studies reveal a probable primary tumor for which standard systemic therapy is available, such therapy should be administered. This may include hormonal therapy for prostate and breast cancer, I131 for thyroid cancer, or cytotoxic single-agent or combination chemotherapy for hormone-refractory breast and ovarian cancers. Standard approaches for such diseases are available in the specific PDQ summaries for each diagnosis.

The majority of patients will not have a definable primary source. For such patients, a variety of combination chemotherapy approaches have been tried with little success. No treatment can be considered standard at present. Therefore, such patients should be considered for available clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with newly diagnosed carcinoma of unknown primary. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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