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Unidentified cancer

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In October 2008, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He had metastases in the liver, the lungs and one rib. He underwent numerous examinations and tests, including colonoscopy, gastroscopy, liver biopsy, X-rays and scan. The source of the cancer was not identified. The doctors refused to give him chemotherapy for two reasons: first, they did not know what type of cancer he had and second, they said that since his liver was very damaged, chemotherapy might harm him more than help him (they said that it might even kill him). He is now in hospital for palliative treatment. Is this all that modern medicine can do? Is it still possible to do something for him? Is it common that the source of the cancer is not known? Please help! He is 66 years old!
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replied January 12th, 2009
Community Volunteer
I'm not 100% certain on this one but I know enough to question his doctor.

In order for them to say that this cancer originated from another location tells me that they should know where his cancer started.

Cancer cells that they have recently found should tell them or the pathologist where it all began.

It could be that it started in the lungs and moved onto his liver and bone or maybe it started in his liver and moved to the lung, etc.

They SHOULD know what type of cancer he has. He could always ask for a 2nd opinion.

Are these the only three places that he has cancer?

Your father is young (same as my dad)...

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replied January 16th, 2009
Re: Unidentified cancer
Hi, thanks for your reply.

Actually, they know what type of cancer he has - poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma. They figured that out with the biopsy. They don't know where it all started, though.

I found information online that this happens in about 2-4% of cancer cases and is called cancer unknown primary.
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replied July 16th, 2010
Train Wreck Cancer
My 26 friend was just diagnosed with i'm no expert. She said 20% of cases are called 'train wrecks' meaning they are unidentifiable as to what kind they are because it's found all over in the body. Hers is just that unfortunately. Talking to a nurse & my doctor friend there is chance for treatment but slim chance; chemo may do more harm and most times they just continue to provide pills for the pain & try to make them comfortable. I am continuing to ask questions since it's not common to know where it originated but it does happen.
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