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Cancer of Unknown Primary

Your cancer came out of nowhere.

Our experienced cancer care experts know what to do. 

It’s confusing and frightening to suddenly hear you have cancer and then even more unsettling to hear tests can’t determine where it started. How do you describe what you have? What does this mean for your treatment and recovery? A multitude of questions roll in between the time you learn you have cancer of unknown primary and you meet with your cancer care team to hear next steps.

We’ll help you during this time to understand this type of cancer, the tests and procedures you may need to go through to help determine what you have, as well as what it all means for your healing journey.

We want you to know there is hope. And help. Our Cancer Care Team will be with you every step of the way as you navigate this new, unfamiliar and sometimes confusing chapter in your life, with clinical expertise and compassionate understanding; providing you the precise care, and caring, you need.  

As questions arise throughout your Care Plan — whether they are about treatment for cancer of unknown primary, clinical trials that may be available, resources for support and more — we are here to answer any and all of them.

Cancer of Unknown Primary Basics Treatments and Procedures

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: What is cancer of unknown primary and what causes it?


    Cancer of unknown primary is a condition in which cancer has spread to organs and/or tissues in the body, but it is not known where it started. Because the site of origin is unclear, risk factors are hard to determine.

    You can always talk with your doctor or anyone on your OhioHealth Cancer Care team to learn more about cancer of unknown primary and its likely causes.

  • Q: Is cancer of unknown primary treatable?

    A: Yes, it is treatable. The kind of treatment you’ll receive depends on many factors, including where the cancer of unknown primary has been found and the size of the tumor(s). Your doctor can discuss available treatment options with you as well as expected results.
  • Q: Does OhioHealth treat cancer of unknown primary?

    A: Yes. We provide patients with cancer of unknown primary with the best care available. We have an expert team of doctors experienced in diagnostic testing and treatment in this rare condition where the cancer has spread but its starting location is unclear.
  • Q: How serious is my cancer of unknown primary?


    We understand this is the biggest question for someone newly diagnosed with any cancer. The answer you’re looking for, however, is individual to you — just as it is individual to other patients with cancer of unknown primary — and so cannot be generalized in an FAQ.

    At OhioHealth, we have the advanced technology to diagnose and treat this disease. We have highly skilled and experienced physicians who know how to fight it.

    It’s important to talk to your doctor about the seriousness of your cancer with a friend or family member present to help you hear and remember the information your doctor shares with you. Ask your doctor to explain what the tests have found, why the primary cancer cannot be determined and what that means for your treatment. Share with your doctor your fears and concerns. Ask for information about support groups.

  • Q: What are the different stages of cancer of unknown primary cancer?


    Cancer is staged by size, location and whether or not it has spread. Because cancer of unknown primary has already spread to areas in the body, there is no staging system for it. Doctors plan treatment for cancer of unknown primary based on the information they have for each patient that may include:

    • The location of the cancer
    • The characteristics of the cancer cells
    • The signs and symptoms caused by the cancer
    • Diagnostic test results

    If the cancer of unknown primary is new or has come back

  • Q: What treatment options are available to me for cancer of unknown primary, and how will they affect my daily life?


    Your cancer care team will assess your cancer condition and determine the most appropriate options for treating it. Those options may include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy and other therapies and procedures. Your cancer care team will talk you through the details of your treatment plan so you understand how it will affect your daily life.

    Every cancer patient is unique in their treatment needs, and it’s best to discuss your recommended options openly with your doctor, as well as what it means for your quality of life going forward. To learn more about treatments for cancer of unknown primary, turn to the National Cancer Institute’s overview on this topic.

  • Q: Will surgery be part of my treatment for cancer of unknown primary?


    Surgery is one of the treatment options considered for cancer of unknown primary. Whether or not surgery will be considered as part of your treatment depends on the how much the cancer has spread, where it’s located, your health condition and other factors.

    Your doctor, as well as others on your OhioHealth Cancer Care Team, will work closely with you in determining the best treatment options for your cancer condition. When discussing your treatment plan, it’s important to ask your doctor to explain the goals of the plan so you understand them.

  • Q: If tests can’t determine where the cancer started, can an effective treatment plan still be developed?

    A: We understand this concern – treatment plans typically are determined based on type of cancer and whether or not it has spread. But cancer specialists can determine treatment plans based on characteristics of the cancer cells studied under a microscope, as well as the cancer’s location and other factors that reveal its behavior. Using this information and closely monitoring results, your cancer care team can develop an effective plan for your healing journey.
  • Q: Where do I find more information about cancer of unknown primary?


    We recommend you start with the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute for their comprehensive expertise.

    National Cancer Institute (

    American Cancer Society (

Want more answers? Browse all of the OhioHealth cancer patient FAQs. General FAQ

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