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Types of Treatment for Carcinoma of Unknown Primary Origin

Treatment for carcinoma of unknown primary origin (CUP) is only undertaken after an exhaustive search for a primary cancer. This includes full body imaging with CT or PET/CT scans, blood tests for tumor markers, and other tests such as recently available tests that analyze genetic mutations in the cancer in order to seek out a likely primary cancer. 

When no primary cancer can be found, treatment for CUP may be either local, systemic, or a combination of both. 

Local treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one certain area. Radiation and surgery are local treatments.

Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells throughout your entire body. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are systemic treatments.

Doctors are always looking for new ways to treat CUP. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials that you might consider.

Each type of treatment for CUP has a different goal. You may have just one treatment or a combination of treatments. Here is a list of main treatments and their goals.

  • Chemotherapy. The goals of chemotherapy are to shrink or slow the growth of the cancer while also reducing the chance that the cancer will spread. This may ease symptoms, prolong life, or even cure the cancer in some cases.

  • Radiation therapy. The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells by using strong beams of energy. Radiation can be used to kill a cancer in one area of the body or to ease the symptoms of cancer. There are 2 kinds of radiation--external and internal. For external radiation, a machine delivers radiation from outside of the body. For internal radiation therapy, a doctor places a radioactive source (often in tiny pellets) in or near the cancer to kill the cells.

  • Hormone therapy. This treatment stops the hormones in the body from allowing cancer cells to grow. Stopping the hormones can be done one of two ways. You may have surgery to take out organs that make hormones (such as the ovaries or testicles). Or, your doctor may give drugs that change the way hormones work.

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove cancerous growths from your body.