Appendix Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Appendiceal Cancer

Overview and Facts about Appendiceal Cancer

Appendiceal cancer is cancer of the appendix. Your appendix is a pouchy, tube-shaped organ attached to the first section of your large intestine, which is called the cecum. Although the exact function and purpose of the appendix is not fully understood, scientists in the medical community believe it may play a role in the function of your body’s lymphatic, exocrine or endocrine systems.

Appendiceal cancer occurs when the cells within the appendix tissue transform and grow uncontrollably. Depending on the type of transformation, these cells may grow to form a malignant or cancerous tumor, thus leading to the onset of appendiceal cancer. Appendiceal cancer is a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer and cases in which the appendix tumor has spread or become malignant are exceedingly rare.

Appendiceal cancer can occur in many forms. For example, one particular form of appendiceal cancer involves the growth of appendiceal mucoceles or mucous-filled sacs, which grow from the appendix wall and can build up and spread a substance called mucin throughout the abdomen. This buildup of mucin can further cause abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel changes in affected individuals.

Symptoms and Signs of Appendiceal Cancer

Signs and symptoms of appendiceal cancer may vary from many symptoms to no symptoms. However, malignant or cancerous appendix tumors are often accompanied by acute appendicitis or changes in digestive health. Symptoms are often experienced during the advanced stages of the disease. Notably, in women, symptoms of appendiceal cancer may be misinterpreted as symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Signs and symptoms of appendiceal cancer include:

  • Inflammation of the appendix or appendicitis
  • Bloating or increased waistline girth
  • Infertility or the inability to conceive or give live birth
  • Changes in bowel habits or frequency
  • Pain or tension in the abdomen or pelvis

Causes and Risk Factors of Appendiceal Cancer

Risk factors associated with appendiceal cancer are unknown. However, cases are rarely seen in children, which suggests that age may influence the onset of appendiceal cancer.

Tests and Diagnosis of Appendiceal Cancer

Several tests can be done to confirm or diagnose appendiceal cancer. In suspected cases, appendix tissue may be removed for further laboratory testing or examination under a microscope (biopsy). Body imaging or X-ray techniques, such as computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may also be used to confirm the presence of tumors or abnormal tissue.

Ultrasound imaging is also used as a sound wave tool to identify appendix tumors. Appendiceal cancers are often identified in tissue collected after an appendectomy or appendix removal surgery to treat appendicitis.

Treatment and Care for Appendiceal Cancer

Appendiceal cancer is typically treated with surgery or removal of the appendix, but only if the affected tissue can be removed without causing harm to the patient. In some cases of large tumors, a portion of the colon or large intestine, or the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) may be removed. In some cases of late-stage appendiceal cancer, doctors may surgically remove a large portion of the tumor and treat or destroy the remaining portion of the tumor using chemotherapy. Systemic chemotherapy is typically used to treat patients with confirmed appendiceal cancer that has spread to other places within the body (metastasis) even if the patient has no symptoms.