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Peritoneal Cancer Workup

  • Author: Wissam Bleibel, MD; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
Updated: Apr 28, 2015

Laboratory Studies

Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: Findings from cytologic examination of ascites can suggest the diagnosis, and findings from percutaneous biopsy of the omentum can help verify the diagnosis. This condition is usually confined to the abdomen at the time of diagnosis.


Imaging Studies

See the list below:

  • Standard imaging tests, including ultrasonography and helical CT scans, are notably insensitive for the detection of peritoneal tumors.
    • The sensitivity of CT scans for peritoneal nodules measuring smaller than 1 cm is approximately 15-30%.
    • Ultrasonography is similarly insensitive; rather than relying on solid tumor detection, therefore, it is important to consider findings that may suggest the presence of peritoneal lesions. These include the presence of ascites, fixing together of bowel loops, thickening of mesentery, and omental matting.
  • CT scan findings are nonspecific in primary papillary serous carcinoma of the peritoneum. Consider this diagnosis when findings include ascites, omental caking, diffuse enhancement with nodular thickening of the parietal peritoneum of the pelvis, and normal-sized ovaries, with or without a fine enhancing surface nodularity of the ovary.
  • Malignant peritoneal mesotheliomas produce CT findings that range from peritoneum-based masses (a so-called "dry" appearance) to ascites, irregular or nodular peritoneal thickening, and an omental mass (a so-called "wet" appearance). Scalloping of the peritoneum or direct invasion of adjacent abdominal organs may also be seen.[1]
  • Some studies show that MRI is superior to helical CT scan for the detection of peritoneal and bowel wall abnormalities.
  • Positron emission tomography imaging has not been shown to be sensitive for lesions smaller than 1 cm in the abdominal cavity.
  • Dual-time point imaging after carbonated water may increase the accuracy of 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET)/CT for the imaging of peritoneal cancer in patients affected by colon rectal cancer.[12]
  • Findings from radionuclide scan studies can help confirm the diagnosis of peritoneal hemangiomas; the isotope concentrates in the area where platelets are being sequestered. A CT scan and ultrasound also may detect larger hemangiomas. Angiographic evaluation is a more precise, although invasive, procedure that may be considered when radionuclide scans, CT scan, and ultrasound findings are negative.


See the list below:

  • The workup of peritoneal lesions includes peritoneal lavage cytology. Peritoneal lavage can be performed using a percutaneous closed technique or at the time of laparoscopy or laparotomy. The sensitivity of the test results depends on the ability to completely lavage all regions of the peritoneal cavity and the ability to detect cancer cells being shed into the peritoneal cavity by the tumor.
  • Direct visualization of the peritoneal surfaces along with palpation of the abdominal contents is by far the most sensitive modality for detecting peritoneal cancer. This can be accomplished with a minimally invasive approach (ie, laparoscopy), which allows for safe, directed peritoneal lavage for cytology, or with open abdominal exploration and palpation of the peritoneal surfaces. Open abdominal exploration and palpation are extremely sensitive for 1- to 2-mm peritoneal nodules.

Histologic Findings

Primary peritoneal carcinoma is histologically indistinguishable from primary epithelial ovarian carcinoma; however, primary ovarian cancer can be excluded based on certain criteria. First, both ovaries must be of normal size. Second, the extraovarian involvement must be greater than the involvement on the surface of the ovary. Third, the ovarian component must be smaller than 5 by 5 mm within the ovary or confined to the ovarian surface. Finally, the cytologic characteristics must be of the serous type.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Wissam Bleibel, MD Staff Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, Caritas Carney Hospital / Tufts University School of Medicine

Wissam Bleibel, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Sarah K May, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Hematology-Oncology, Caritas Carney Hospital, Commonwealth Hematology-Oncology PC

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Olga Kozyreva, MD Attending Physician, Division of Hematology-Oncology, St Elizabeth's Medical Center; Assistant Professor, Tufts University School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Asif Mahmood, MD Research Associate, Medical College of Virginia Cancer Center

Asif Mahmood, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Society of Hospital Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Benjamin Movsas, MD 

Benjamin Movsas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Radiology, American Radium Society, American Society for Radiation Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS Harold J Wanebo Professor of Surgery, Assistant Dean of Clinical Affairs, Boston University School of Medicine; Chairman, Department of Surgery, Director, Adele R Decof Cancer Center, Roger Williams Medical Center

N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Central Surgical Association, Chicago Medical Society, International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, Pancreas Club, Sigma Xi, Society for Leukocyte Biology, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of University Surgeons, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Southern Medical Association, Surgical Infection Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Robert C Shepard, MD, FACP Associate Professor of Medicine in Hematology and Oncology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Therapeutic Expertise, Oncology, at PRA International

Robert C Shepard, MD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Cancer Research, American Association for Physician Leadership, European Society for Medical Oncology, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Federation for Clinical Research, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, American Medical Informatics Association, American College of Physicians, American Federation for Medical Research, American Medical Association, American Society of Hematology, Massachusetts Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Dr. Oliver Zivanovic, MD, PhD, discusses the role of hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy in ovarian cancer. Courtesy of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Dr. Oliver Zivanovic, MD, PhD, demonstrates hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Courtesy of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
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