Cancer of unknown primary site

Lancet. 2012 Apr 14;379(9824):1428-35. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61178-1. Epub 2012 Mar 12.


Cancer of unknown primary site (CUP) is a well recognised clinical disorder, accounting for 3-5% of all malignant epithelial tumours. CUP is clinically characterised as an aggressive disease with early dissemination. Diagnostic approaches to identify the primary site include detailed histopathological examination with specific immunohistochemistry and radiological assessment. Gene-profiling microarray diagnosis has high sensitivity, but further prospective study is necessary to establish whether patients' outcomes are improved by its clinical use. Metastatic adenocarcinoma is the most common CUP histopathology (80%). CUP patients are divided into subsets of favourable (20%) and unfavourable (80%) prognosis. Favourable subsets are mostly given locoregional treatment or systemic platinum-based chemotherapy. Responses and survival are similar to those of patients with relevant known primary tumours. Patients in unfavourable subsets are treated with empirical chemotherapy based on combination regimens of platinum or taxane, but responses and survival are generally poor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Carcinoma / mortality*
  • Carcinoma / secondary*
  • Carcinoma / therapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / mortality*
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / pathology*
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survival Analysis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods