Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin

The team at NJ Cancer & Blood Specialists are trained to treat cancers of unknown primary origin along with many other conditions. Call the experts today and let us treat you.


What Is Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin?

Each of the body’s tissues is a collection of cells working together to contribute to the healthy functioning of the body. Cancer is a disease characterized by unregulated cell division in which abnormal cells may invade and destroy normal body tissues. Many different types of cancers are described by the organ in which they develop, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, etc.

When cancer is described as having an unknown primary origin, this means that although cancer cells have been found in the body, it is unknown where cancer began to form. Since cancer of unknown primary origin only describes cancer without a known starting point, two cancers of unknown primary origin can be quite different. Cancer without a known origin—much like cancer itself—is not a single disease.

Cancer of unknown primary origin is also referred to as “cancer of unknown primary” and often abbreviated as “CUP.”

What Causes Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin?

Each of the body’s tissues is a collection of cells working together to contribute to the healthy functioning of the body. Cancer is a disease characterized by unregulated cell division in which abnormal cells may invade and destroy normal body tissues. Many different types of cancers are described by the organ in which they develop, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, etc.

When cancer is described as having an unknown primary origin, this means that although cancer cells have been found in the body, it is unknown where cancer began to form. Since cancer of unknown primary origin only describes cancer without a known starting point, two cancers of unknown primary origin can be quite different. Cancer without a known origin—much like cancer itself—is not a single disease.

Cancer of unknown primary origin is also referred to as “cancer of unknown primary” and often abbreviated as “CUP.”

How Is Cancer of Unknown Primary Detected?

Our specialists collect information regarding medical history, surgical history, social history, and family history; conduct laboratory testing, and review radiological studies to approach patient care in the most comprehensive and personalized manner.

If cancer is suspected, a doctor will likely order an imaging study to help arrive at a diagnosis. Imaging studies might include a CT scan, PET scan, PET-CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI. A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to generate a three-dimensional picture of the body whereas a PET (positron emission tomography) scan uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to locate any cancer cells by how readily they take up the radiotracer. A PET-CT combines the features of a CT scan with those of a PET scan. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic fields to generate a detailed representation of the body. Lastly, an ultrasound sends sound waves through the body to generate images of the body’s organs and tissues.

If upon review of your results your doctor notices a mass suspicious for cancer, he or she will likely order a biopsy in order to make a diagnosis and plan treatment, if necessary.

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin

The following may be indicative of cancer but may also be indicative of other illnesses:

  • Abnormal, unexplainable weight loss
  • Bump or bumps on the skin
  • Changes in bowel movement patterns
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever(s)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low red blood cell count
  • Night sweats
  • Pain
  • A sensation of a mass
  • Weakness

It is important you tell your doctor if you have any of these signs and symptoms, so he or she may determine their cause and plan treatment, if necessary.

How Is Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin Treated?

Treatment of cancer, depending on the stage and type, may include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery. These treatments may be used individually or in combination based on your doctor’s recommendations. It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important factors to consider when deciding on a cancer treatment plan include

  • Your age, health, and lifestyle.
  • The stage of your cancer.
  • Any other serious health conditions you have.
  • Your feelings about the need to treat cancer right away
  • Your doctor’s opinion about if you need to treat cancer right away
  • The likelihood that treatment will help fight or cure your cancer
  • Possible side effects from each treatment method

Our Approach

We understand that a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary. Here at New Jersey Cancer & Blood Specialists, we build our teams around you. Our expert oncologists will help guide you through this difficult time, answering any questions you may have along the way. We are here for you, and will do everything in our power to meet your specific needs and exceed your expectations. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms that may be related to adrenal cancer, please call us as soon as possible at (201) 500-4958 or make an appointment online