When Cancer of Unknown Origin Strikes, Family Members Are At Increased Risk
Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
For Immediate Release
SALT LAKE CITY - Cancer usually begins in one location and then spreads, but in 3-5% of cancer patients, the tissue where a cancer began is unknown. In these individuals a cancer diagnosis is made because it has metastasized to other sites. Patients with these so-called “cancers of unknown primary,” or CUP, have a very poor prognosis, with a median survival of three months. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Oncology finds that family members of CUP patients are at higher risk of developing CUP themselves, as well as cancers of the lung, pancreas, colon, and some cancers of the blood.
Jewel Samadder, MD, is the lead researcher on the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) study. He said he was motivated to do the study when he had a patient that presented with abnormal fluid accumulation in his abdomen. They removed the fluid and found cancer cells, but could never find the primary source of the cancer, even after an extensive search involving imaging and endoscopy.
“The relatives were very distraught and we had very little that we could tell them about where the cancer started from in their loved one and whether they, as family members, were at increased risk for cancer,” he said.
Also upsetting to CUP patients and family members, according to Samadder, is the difficulty physicians have in determining the best course of therapy to recommend. “Because we are not able to identify the primary tumor site, we are not able to select a type of chemotherapy or radiotherapy that the cancer would respond to best.”
He adds that the inability to select the best therapy and the advanced nature of these cancers are likely responsible for the poor outcomes.
Public Relations - Huntsman Cancer Institute
About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is one of the world’s top academic research and cancer treatment centers. HCI manages the Utah Population Database - the largest genetic database in the world, with more than 16 million records linked to genealogies, health records, and vital statistics. Using this data, HCI researchers have identified several cancer-causing genes, including the genes responsible for melanoma, colon and breast cancer, and paraganglioma. HCI is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (a 27-member alliance of the world's leading cancer centers) and is a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers. The HCI Cancer Learning Center for patient and public education contains one of the nation's largest collections of cancer-related publications. The institute is named after Jon M. Huntsman, a Utah philanthropist, industrialist, and cancer survivor.