What Is Peritoneal Carcinomatosis?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 30, 2022
3 min read

Peritoneal carcinomatosis is a rare form of cancer affecting the peritoneum, the thin membrane surrounding your abdominal organs. Finding out that you or a loved one has it can be tough, and understanding this cancer can help give you a sense of control.

Peritoneal carcinomatosis most often develops when other abdominal tumors spread to the peritoneum, leading to multiple new tumors on the surface of this membrane. If you get peritoneal carcinomatosis, it generally means that your abdominal cancer is in an advanced stage. There are also very rare cases of primary peritoneal carcinomatosis, which begins in the peritoneum itself. These cases usually happen in women who are at high risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Since peritoneal carcinomatosis most often develops when existing cancers spread, the main risk factor is having other advanced cancers, including:

Primary peritoneal carcinomatosis happens almost always in women. Apart from gender, other risk factors for primary peritoneal carcinomatosis include:

There may be no symptoms in the early stages, or you may have vague symptoms that resemble other conditions. In later stages, the cancer causes symptoms such as:

Many other things can cause those problems.

Peritoneal carcinomatosis that stems from abdominal cancers can lead to ascites (the buildup of fluid in the peritoneum), which then leads to other symptoms such as:

If a doctor thinks you have peritoneal carcinomatosis, you may get a blood test, CT scan, MRI, or biopsy to confirm it. Sometimes, peritoneal carcinomatosis is diagnosed during a surgery for another cancer, when a surgeon notices tumors in the peritoneum.

Since peritoneal carcinomatosis is usually an advanced form of invasive cancer that has spread from another tumor, it can be hard to treat. Most peritoneal carcinomatosis tumors don’t shrink very much, or at all, in response to chemotherapy. Because of that, many doctors focus on palliative care to manage symptoms, ease pain, and improve your quality of life. There are doctors who specialize in palliative care, which is for anyone with a serious illness. Hospice care is an option if end-of-life concerns start to become a need.

Depending on your particular case, other treatment options may also be available.

  • Cytoreductive surgery. A surgeon removes any tumors on the peritoneum and, in some cases, nearby abdominal organs.
  • Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Often used right after cytoreductive surgery, this method bathes the inside of your abdomen, where your peritoneum is, with heated chemotherapy drugs to kill any remaining cancer cells.
  • A peritonectomy is surgery to remove your peritoneum.