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Formerly known as California Oncology of the Central Valley Request an Appointment
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Formerly known as California Oncology of the Central Valley Request an Appointment

Peritoneal Cancer

Women's Cancer Care > Types of Cancers > Peritoneal Cancer

What Is Peritoneal Cancer?

The peritoneum is made up of epithelial cells, lining the abdomen and the organs within. Primary peritoneal carcinoma originates in the peritoneum and has not traveled there from another part of the body, which is why it is referred to as ‘primary.’ It is closely related to ovarian epithelial cancer because they both form in similar epithelial tissues. While it originates in the abdomen, peritoneal cancer is not a stomach or intestinal cancer.

Female reproductive system

Peritoneal Cancer Diagnosis

Primary peritoneal cancer can occur in women who have their ovaries or women who have had their ovaries removed. Risk factors include age, obesity, endometriosis, postmenopausal hormone therapy, family history, and genetic mutations, like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic abnormalities.


  • Bloating, cramping, or swelling
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Backache
  • Difficulty eating, feeling full quickly
  • Indigestion, heartburn, nausea, or gas
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Urgent or frequent urination
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during intercourse

Tests & Exams

Some tests are performed by primary care providers or OB/GYNs as part of routine screenings, while others are done after receiving abnormal results to learn more.

  • Pap test
  • Pelvic exam
  • Genetic test
  • CA-125 blood test
  • BRCA test
  • CT scan
  • Paracentesis
  • Laparoscopy or laparotomy


Staging is a measurement system based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.

TNM System

(Tumor – node – metastasis system)

  • T: shows how far the main tumor has spread into nearby tissue
  • N: shows whether or not the nearby lymph nodes have cancer in them
  • M: shows if the cancer has spread (or metastasized) to distant organs in the body
Stage III
Stage IV

Stage III

Cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes outside of the peritoneum or to the peritoneum outside of the pelvis. Cells may also be on the surface of the liver or spleen.

Stage IV

Cancer cells have spread to the organs and tissues outside of the abdomen.

Stage IV Peritoneal Cancer


The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.

Comparison of the grades of cancer

Peritoneal Cancer Treatment

Primary peritoneal cancer treatment sometimes involves surgery to remove cancerous cells. Surgery can also help the care team determine the severity and spread of the cancer. Unfortunately, primary peritoneal cancer is often discovered and diagnosed in later stages, and in those cases, treatment is centered around palliative care.

In-Office Therapies

Other Courses of Treatment


The uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and surrounding abnormal tissue are sometimes removed in surgical treatment for peritoneal cancer. As with ovarian cancer, debulking surgeries can help improve outcomes, but the peritoneum cannot be removed, which is why chemotherapy is often prescribed in addition to surgery.