Carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP) is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the body, but the organ where they initially began growing, the primary site, cannot be discovered.
The area where a cancer originates in the body is often referred to as the primary tumor. Cancer of unknown primary is a cancer that starts out in an unknown spot and then metastasizes (spreads) to another site, such as a lymph node, the liver, lung, brain, or the bones. Because the primary site is unknown, prognosis may differ from patient to patient.
Most cancers are named after the area of the body in which they start. For example, breast cancer is cancer that originates in the breast. If it spreads to another part of the body, it is still called breast cancer, and the cancerous cells that have metastasized still look like breast cancer cells. With CUP, however, doctors are unable to know with certainty the origin of these cells.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 35, 000 cases of cancer of unknown primary are diagnosed each year. These represent approximately 3% to 5% of all cases of cancer. The average age of a patient diagnosed with CUP is approximately 58. The disease is more common in men than in women.
Deanna Swartout-Corbeil R.N., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,