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Appendix Cancer

 201-227-6008   |    cancer@holyname.org

Overview

Appendix cancer (sometimes called appendiceal cancer) is a rare cancer that occurs in the appendix, a small worm-shaped organ attached to the beginning of the large intestine. The appendix does not have a known function.

Fewer than 1,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with appendix cancer. There are several different types, with the most common being adenocarcinoma. It is very similar to colon cancer, typically occurs in people in their 60's and is more common in men.

In certain types of appendix cancer, the appendix ruptures and sends a jelly-like substance called mucin into the abdomen, creating a condition called pseudomyxoma peritonei. Mucin is filled with mucus-secreting tumor cells that must be treated. Holy Name is one of the few hospitals nationwide that provides the sophisticated therapy, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), to treat this condition.

Carcinoid tumors can also occur in the appendix. They rarely spread, and, often, an appendectomy (removing the appendix) is sufficient to treat this type of tumor.

The Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name has a multi-disciplinary team of experienced and skilled surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, nurse navigators, genetic counselors and support staff. Together they provide a compassionate, unified approach in creating a personal strategy for each patient's unique medical, emotional and lifestyle needs.


At times, appendix cancer causes no symptoms and may be detected through a routine colonoscopy. When symptoms do appear, they may include some but not all of the following:

  • Appendicitis, an inflammation of the appendix

  • Bloating

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, particularly on the lower right side of the abdomen

  • Ovarian mass

  • Age — the average age of diagnosis is 40

  • Smoking

  • Family history — people with a relative that has had appendix cancer of certain endocrine syndromes

  • Medical history — people with a history of medical conditions that affect the stomach's ability to produce acid have a higher risk for appendix cancer

  • Male — men are more likely to develop adenocarcinoma

  • Female — women are more likely to develop carcinoid tumors

  • Physical exam

  • CT Scan

  • MRI

  • Biopsy

  • Ultrasound

  • Radionuclide scan — small amount of a radioactive chemical is injected before images are taken – for carcinoid tumors

Treatment for appendix cancer will depend on several factors, including the type of tumor, where it is in the appendix, if it has spread and the patients' overall health.

Surgery

This is used most often in appendix cancer. The tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue is removed. Often, appendix cancer is slow–growing and may be successfully treated with surgery alone. When the cancer has spread, cytoreductive (tumor debulking) may be used to remove parts of the intestine, gallbladder, ovaries, uterus and lining of the abdominal cavity.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be used in combination with surgery. Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), also known as heated chemotherapy or a chemo bath, is a procedure involving filling the abdominal cavity with a chemotherapy drug for about 90 minutes. It is used when the cancer has spread outside the appendix.