Cancer of unknown primary

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Treatments for undifferentiated tumours

The following are treatments for undifferentiated tumours. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

When deciding which treatments to offer for undifferentiated carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP), your healthcare team will consider:

  • where and how many different places cancer is found
  • prognosis
  • performance status
  • where the cancer may have started (called the primary site)
  • your overall health
  • your age
  • your preferences for treatment

If you have an undifferentiated tumour and doctors don’t know where the primary site is, your healthcare team will offer the type of chemotherapy that they think will work best. This is referred to as empirical chemotherapy. They will usually give 2 or more drugs. Most drug combinations include at least one of the following:

  • a platinum drug – either cisplatin (Platinol AQ) or carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ)
  • a taxane drug – either paclitaxel (Taxol) or docetaxel (Taxotere)

The most common combination used is carboplatin and paclitaxel. This is because carboplatin has fewer side effects than cisplatin.

Researchers are still looking for the most effective drug combinations for undifferentiated CUP.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better rather than treat the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

You may be asked if you want to join a clinical trial for cancer of unknown primary. Find out more about clinical trials.

performance status

The measure of how well a person is able to perform ordinary tasks and carry out daily activities.

Examples of scales used to evaluate performance status include the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Karnofsky performance status scale.

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