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Can a Cancer of Unknown Primary Be Found Early?

Cancers of unknown primary (CUP) have always spread outside the organ they started in by the time they are diagnosed. If they had been found early, we would know where they started and they would not be classified as a cancer of unknown primary.

Screening tests

The American Cancer Society has specific recommendations about tests that may help detect breast, prostate, cervical, and colorectal cancers early, before they cause any symptoms.

But these cancers account for a fairly small portion of cancers of unknown primary. No screening tests have been proven to be effective in the early detection of many of the cancers that are likely to be diagnosed as cancer of unknown primary, such as pancreatic, stomach, and kidney cancers.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Crawford SM, Skinner J, Coombes E, Jones AP. Cancer of unknown primary: A cancer registry Study of factors affecting access to diagnosis. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2017 Jan;29(1):e39-e46. doi: 10.1016/j.clon.2016.09.011.

Greco FA, Hainsworth JD. Carcinoma of Unknown Primary In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2015: 1719-1736.

Søndergaard D, Nielsen S, Pedersen CNS, Besenbacher S. Prediction of primary tumors in cancers of unknown primary. J Integr Bioinform. 2017 Jul;14(2):pii. doi: 10.1515/jib-2017-0013.

Tomuleasa C, Zaharie F, Muresan MS, Pop L, Fekete Z, Dima D, Frinc I, Trifa A, Berce C, Jurj A, Berindan-Neagoe I, Zdrenghea M. How to diagnose and treat a cancer of unknown primary site. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2017 Mar;26(1):69-79. doi: 10.15403/jgld.2014.1121.261.haz.

Varadhachary GR, Lenzi R, Raber MN, Abbruzzese JL. Carcinoma of Unknown Primary In: Neiderhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA. Elsevier: 2014:1792-1803.

Last Revised: March 9, 2018

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