Cancer - Unknown Primary

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Treating Cancer of Unknown Primary TOPICS

How is a cancer of unknown primary treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

After your cancer is diagnosed, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Choosing a treatment plan is an important decision, so it’s important to take time and think about all of the choices.

In creating your treatment plan, the most important factors to consider are the type of cancer and its location. Your cancer care team will also take into account your general state of health and your personal preferences.

Treatment for cancer of unknown primary (CUP) may include:

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. If time permits, it’s often a good idea to get a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel confident about your chosen treatment plan.

Often, CUP is too advanced to be cured, and the goal may be to shrink the cancer for a time, in hopes of improving symptoms and helping you live longer. This treatment is considered palliative or supportive care, because it’s meant to relieve symptoms such as pain, but is not expected to cure the cancer.

The next few sections describe the different types of treatment that may be used for CUP. This is followed by a discussion of the typical treatments used for some of the more common instances of CUP.


Last Medical Review: 03/12/2013
Last Revised: 01/31/2014