Cancer of the appendix explained - what is pseudomyxoma peritonei?

As Yorkshire cancer nurse Charlotte Ward opens up about her private battle with the rare disease, we take a look at what pseudomyxoma peritonei means.

Pseudomyxoma peritonei is a very rare type of cancer, affecting an estimated one in every 1.7m people.

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It is also referred to as cancer of the appendix.

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What is cancer of the appendix?

According to Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK, it usually starts in the appendix as a small growth called a polyp.

Known as PMP, it doesn't act like most cancers, and rarely spreads through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to any other part of the body.

Instead it spreads inside the abdomen, producing mucus which eventually causes symptoms.

Without treatment it eventually takes over the peritoneal cavity and presses on the bowel and other organs.

This condition develops very slowly and it might be years before symptoms appear. Because of this it has usually spread beyond the appendix before diagnosis.

The cause of PMP is unknown, and is more common in women than men.

What are the symptoms of pseudomyxoma peritonei?

Many people may not notice symptoms at first, but they can include;

- gradual increase in waist size

- a hernia

- loss of appetite

- unexplained weight gain

- tummy pain

- changes in bowel habits

Diagnosis and treatment

It can be hard to diagnose PMP and it’s often found by accident. Tests can include a CT or ultrasound scan, a biopsy or a laparoscopy.

The main treatments for PMP are surgery and chemotherapy.

Surgery may be used to remove the cancer or as much of it as possible to reduce symptoms. Chemotherapy may be used to slow the growth and reduce symptoms of cancer.

Doctors may suggest 'watchful waiting', with close monitoring and treatment started when the cancer begins to cause problems.

Surgery may mean removing part of the bowel and for women, removing the womb and ovaries.

Because pseudomyxoma peritonei is very rare, there are two designated UK specialist treatment centres, one at The Christie Hospital in Manchester and one at Basingstoke and North Hampshire NHS Foundation Trust.