Peritoneal cancer is a rare form of cancer that forms in the peritoneum. The peritoneum is the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the organs in the abdomen. When the cells of the peritoneum transform, or when cancer from another part of the body spreads to the peritoneum, this is called peritoneal cancer.

There are two main types of peritoneal cancer:

Primary peritoneal cancer starts in the cells of the peritoneum. Primary peritoneal cancer is more common in women than men. Primary peritoneal cancer has similar symptoms and treatments to ovarian cancer. People at risk for ovarian cancer—especially with BRCA genetic mutations—are also at increased risk for peritoneal cancer.

Peritoneal carcinomatosis happens when cancer starts somewhere else in the body, like the intestines or pancreas, and spreads to the peritoneum. The main risk factor for peritoneal carcinomatosis is having other advanced or metastatic cancers, including: appendix cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, or gastric cancer.

Symptoms

There may not be any symptoms in the early stages of peritoneal cancer. Symptoms usually occur once the cancer has progressed. Many symptoms are caused by a buildup of fluids in the abdomen. Peritoneal cancer symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating or fullness in the belly, called abdominal distention
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
Testing and Diagnosis

If a doctor suspects you may have peritoneal cancer, there are several tests that can help with the diagnosis. This process usually begins with asking about your symptoms, reviewing your medical history, and doing a physical exam. Some tests that can help diagnose peritoneal cancer include:

Blood tests may help measure levels of certain chemicals that could be elevated if peritoneal cancer is present. These chemicals are markers that could mean there is peritoneal cancer, but these chemicals could be elevated for other reasons, so this test cannot confirm a diagnosis of peritoneal cancer.

Imaging studies, like a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound can identify peritoneal cancer and help determine the extent of the disease.

A surgeon may perform a biopsy, removing a small sample of tissue to confirm the presence of cancer. This biopsy can also help the doctors determine the best treatment plan for the patient.

Treatment

Each case of peritoneal cancer is different. Peritoneal cancer specialists at Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center provide personalized treatment based on the needs of each patient.

Treatments for peritoneal cancer include:

  • Surgery to remove all tumors. This surgery, called cytoreductive surgery, removes any tumors on the peritoneum and nearby abdominal organs.
  • HIPEC. Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, also called HIPEC, is a kind of heated chemotherapy applied directly inside the abdomen. After surgery to remove all visible tumors, HIPEC may be a treatment option to eliminate any remaining cancerous cells.
  • Chemotherapy drugs taken orally or by injection may also be used to treat peritoneal cancer cells.
Treatment Team

Washington University Surgery has world-class specialists to treat peritoneal cancer.

Sean C. Glasgow, MD

Associate Professor of Surgery

Section of Colon and Rectal Surgery
Division of General Surgery

To make an appointment with Dr. Glasgow, please fill out this online form or call 314–454-7177.

Beth A. Helmink, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Surgery

Section of Surgical Oncology
Division of General Surgery

To make an appointment with Dr. Helmink, please fill out this online form or call 314-747-7222.

What to Expect

When you come to one of our clinical locations, you will see a specialist who will evaluate your condition and order any tests we might need to make a diagnosis. We will make a treatment plan based on your condition. Our team of experts will answer all of your questions and make sure you understand your treatment plan.

Why Washington University Surgery and Siteman Cancer Center?

The Peritoneal Surface Disease Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Siteman Cancer Center includes multidisciplinary expertise in colon and rectal surgery, surgical oncology, radiology, medical oncology, and other specialties. The team works together to diagnose and treat peritoneal cancer, providing personalized care for each patient.

Peritoneal cancer is a rare form of cancer, but peritoneal surgeons at Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center treat a high volume of patients with this disease and have the expertise to diagnose and treat even the most complex cases.

Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis earned the highest possible rating—exceptional—from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Siteman is the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Missouri and in southern Illinois. The cancer center is known for its leadership, cutting-edge research and focus on turning scientific discoveries into innovative cancer treatments.

At Washington University, you have access to all of the specialists you need for the best treatment.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment with Dr. Glasgow, please fill out this online form or call 314–454-7177.

To make an appointment with Dr. Helmink, please fill out this online form or call 314-747-7222.