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Cancer Health Center

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


Poorly Differentiated Neuroendocrine Carcinomas

In a series of 29 patients with poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinomas, 19 were treated with intensive cisplatin-based combination chemotherapy, and six additional patients received doxorubicin combinations. Six patients achieved complete response and four of these patients were alive 19 to 100 months after diagnosis.[12]

Peritoneal Carcinomatosis

Women with peritoneal carcinomatosis of an adenocarcinoma serous histologic type have a favorable response to chemotherapy and improved prognosis. Response and survival rates in these patients approach those seen in ovarian cancer patients, and therapy appropriate for ovarian cancer should be used.[13,14] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment for more information.)

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.[15]
  • 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.[16]

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.[17] More information can be found in the PDQ summaries for these malignancies.

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