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What is Peritoneal Carcinomatosis?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Peritoneal carcinomatosis is a type of secondary cancer that affects the lining of the abdominal cavity, called the peritoneum. It occurs when cancer metastasizes from another part of the body and implants into the lining. Peritoneal carcinomatosis most commonly follows severe or untreated pancreas, ovarian, stomach, and colon cancer. Symptoms can vary, but many people experience extreme fatigue and abdominal pain. Quick, aggressive treatment in the form of medications and surgery is vital in preventing fatal complications.

Some cancers are more likely to metastasize quickly to the peritoneum than others. Not surprisingly, tumors in organs that are inside or adjacent to the abdominal cavity present the highest risk of developing this type of cancer. People who have widespread cancer in their stomachs and intestines are at an especially high risk, especially if they cause ulcers and ruptures. Ovarian, liver, and pancreatic cancer are notorious for spreading quickly as well. Occasionally, a tumor far from the abdomen or a bone cancer can result in peritoneal carcinomatosis after cancerous cells invade lymph nodes and the bloodstream.

The most common symptoms of peritoneal carcinomatosis include acute or chronic aches, cramps, bloating, and full-body fatigue. Many symptoms are caused when excess fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity, a direct consequence of nearby tumor activity. Other problems such as breathing difficulties, digestive problems, and chest pains may be present as well, depending on the extent and location of the original cancer.

In most cases, doctors are already aware that patients have primary cancers before they develop this kind. Most people are already receiving some form of cancer treatment for the metastasis. Ultrasounds and computerized tomography scans are taken to look for signs of tumors, fluid accumulation, and damaged tissue in the abdominal cavity. If something suspicious is found, a tissue biopsy may be necessary to confirm it is cancer. Treatment decisions are made right away to provide patients with the best possible chances of recovery.

Surgery is the treatment of choice when tumors are small and isolated in the peritoneum. If an entire tumor can be removed and the primary cancer treated effectively, the patient has a good prognosis. Cancers in their later stages are typically treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Even when it appears that treatment is successful, the condition can become a recurring problem. Regular checkups and exams are vital elements of follow-up care to make sure future problems are kept to a minimum.

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Discussion Comments
By anon999997 — On Apr 30, 2018

Is there a blood test to see if you have this. My brother just passed away with this.

By anon996476 — On Sep 05, 2016

My father was diagnosed a few weeks ago with this peritoneal carcinomotosis. He started chemo one week ago and is also taking Xeloda. He has extreme pain in his abdomen, especially after a bowel movement or urinating. Is there anything for this pain other than pain pills?

He had colon cancer a year ago, had surgery and this cancer came from that they said. Not sure is he is a candidate for the cytoreductive HIPEC yet. He just started the chemo so he will have to complete that first. For three months. I'm so concerned. He has deteriorated quickly in the past few weeks. I just wish we could find something for the pain around his rectum. Is there something to numb that area? It is around the clock pain. He cannot sleep in his bed. This must be one of the most painful cancers to have.

He was a fit, full of energy man for 77. He was a commercial fisherman who worked and walked 2 miles a day and now has been reduced to a recliner. The oncologist doesn't give much info to us. Any information is appreciated. He is making himself eat. He tries to get up even though he is in pain. He is a fighter with great faith in God. Why does he hurt so much after a BM or urination?

By anon300184 — On Oct 29, 2012

I am a 45 year old female. In February 2012, I was diagnosed with locally advanced stage 3 pancreatic cancer. I went through two rounds of chemo and then six weeks of radiation and xeloda 2500mg a day. I started having a lot of pain and got admitted to the hospital. They did a CT scan to find I have peritoneal caricinomatosis. This was done a few days ago and they took 3.2 liters of fluid off my stomach. What does all this mean?

By anon282602 — On Jul 30, 2012

My mother was diagnosed with this. She had chemo, but they told her it was too far gone to operate but she proved them wrong.

She has since had an operation, and had chemo afterward. She is now in remission but they told her it will come back, so basically it's a waiting game at the moment, but I say fight all the way. You can prove doctors wrong.

By anon250135 — On Feb 24, 2012

My sister has been living with inflammatory breast cancer that had spread to the bone for almost seven years. She was taken off chemo in October and in November she developed symptoms that have now been diagnosed an peritoneal carcinamotosis. Is this common with a primary of breast cancer?

By anon240410 — On Jan 13, 2012

My grandma was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor near her liver three years ago, underwent surgery to remove it, which was a success, but then it reappeared near her spine a year later. She then underwent another surgery to remove this mass, and also had a cage put around her spine, due to damage the tumor had caused to it.

It also came back, but this time the doctors cannot remove it due to the new tumor's location in her back, but she has been taking the cancer radiation pill for almost a year. The cancer is still there, but the pill has stopped it from further growing or spreading, which is great, but her doctor recently increased the mgs of the pill to hopefully begin shrinking the cancer tumor. Only now, she has developed stomach ascites, and her stomach is really swollen.

She goes next week for scans and testing on her stomach. She also has had very low blood count since the ascites appeared. She has been through so much, and I'm so very worried these "ascites" may be related to the already present cancer possibly spreading to her abdomen. Can anybody offer any similar stories or experiences with this, and if so, was it a good prognosis? Any advice would be of great help.

By anon205543 — On Aug 12, 2011

My sister in law has been diagnosed with this type of cancer, but had no other cancer in her body. Is this normal?

By Julse48 — On May 18, 2011

I can tell you personally that the prognosis is beating the odds. I am a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Peritoneal Carcinomatosis. In 2008, I received five chemo treatments, debulking surgery and three more chemo treatments on the back end.

Oct 2008 is my anniversary date, so I've been in remission for almost three years now.

Even though the article pinpoints symptoms, I only had one and did not appear to be sick at all. The one symptom was bloating/fluid Retention, which was treatable, and it was until just weeks before I was diagnosed that the fluid retention became unmanageable.

I went to an emergency room, they did labs and all the results were normal. Paracentesis was done to drain the fluid (six liters), and stains and tests were done, and they too came back normal. It wasn't until a biopsy of the mass behind my liver came back as cancer. Not all baseline testing will show a cancer diagnosis.

I am proud to be a survivor and my motto is: "It is what it is and you can make a difference. Stay positive and strong."

By TheDoctor — On Apr 22, 2011

There was an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where they called in a doctor from another hospital to try something called a HIPEC treatment to treat a cancer like this. It was really very interesting because they heated the medication used for treatment and injected it directly into the abdominal cavity. It saved the patient’s life on the show and it turns out that this is a real treatment that is used in treating a lot of cancers with a fairly high success rate. It is a lot easier on patients than regular chemotherapy because it treats only the affected area, not the body as a whole.

By alterego — On Apr 21, 2011

@dtortorelli- How effectively this can be treated depends on how much attention the patient pays to abdominal cancer symptoms. I have a friend who is an oncologist and she tells me that you would be shocked at home many people simply ignore symptoms that something is seriously wrong with them. You would think that already being diagnosed with cancer would make them pay closer attention, but it is like they have already dealt with so much that they do not want to think about this being something that might come back or that might have further consequences. This is a cancer that spreads very quickly, so without early diagnosis the prognosis is not very good.

By dtortorelli — On Apr 20, 2011

Does anyone know what the peritoneal cancer prognosis is? It must be horrible to have cancer and get treatment for it only to find that something like this has popped up in another part of your body. I suppose it is a good thing that most people are already under treatment when this occurs, I imagine that it helps raise the chances of beating it a great deal, right?

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