What is appendix cancer?
In appendix cancer, abnormal cells grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor in the small pouch connected to the colon. Appendix tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Appendix cancer is often discovered when a person has surgery for another condition such as appendicitis, or during a CT scan. A rare condition, appendix cancer is estimated to affect two people per million, according to the Gateway for Cancer Research.
What are the different types of appendix cancer?
The types of appendix cancers include:
- Carcinoid tumors make up about half to two-thirds of all appendix cancers. Most carcinoid tumors are slow growing, small, and do not usually cause symptoms. Typically, carcinoid tumors can be treated successfully. They are most often found in women in their 40s.
- Non-carcinoid tumors begin in the appendix wall inside epithelial cells. Epithelial cells produce a sticky material called mucin. Non-carcinoid tumors tend to spread to the abdomen, and the most effective approach to treatment is usually a tumor-debulking surgery called cytoreductive surgery.
- Signet-ring cell adenocarcinoma is the rarest, most aggressive form of appendix cancer. Treatment may include removal of parts of the colon, cytoreductive surgery, and chemotherapy with surgery.
What are the symptoms of appendix cancer?
Appendix cancer may not cause symptoms, or symptoms may be so vague as to be easily ignored. Additionally, appendix cancer symptoms vary from person to person. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you experience new or unusual symptoms such as:
- Bloated abdomen (increase in size and/or girth)
- Acute or chronic abdominal pain
- Discomfort in the lower right abdomen
- Ovarian masses
- Lack of appetite or problems digesting food
- Bowel obstruction, constipation, and/or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
What are the causes and risk factors of appendix cancer?
There are no known causes of appendix cancer. Many people with risk factors never develop appendix cancer, while some people with appendix cancer exhibit no known risk factors. Possible risk factors can include:
- Tobacco use
- Age (on average, appendix cancer patients are diagnosed at age 40)
- Gender (the condition is more likely to develop in women)
- Family history of appendix cancer or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome
- Conditions that affect the stomach’s ability to produce acid, including Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, pernicious anemia, and gastritis
How is appendix cancer diagnosed and treated?
Appendix tumors are generally found during routine exams for unrelated medical problems or abdominal surgeries for appendicitis, hernias, or infertility. If your doctor suspects you may have appendix cancer, he or she will perform one or more of the following tests:
- CT Scan
- MRI Scan
- Radionucleotide scan
An appendix cancer diagnosis is often treated using cytoreductive surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).