Ascites is a term that refers to the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, which may arise from various causes. When ascites develops in patients diagnosed with cancer, it is often referred to as malignant ascites. This is a condition where fluids containing cancer cells accumulate in the abdominal cavity. The abdominal cavity is the body’s biggest hollow space located between the pelvis and the diaphragm. Incidence of the condition is often seen as a complication of cancer in more advanced stages.
Individuals suffering from uterine cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer have a higher risk of developing malignant ascites. Patients with gastrointestinal and breast cancer are also susceptible to this condition. Outlook for cancer patients who develop this condition is generally gloomy. Most of them experience severe discomfort and impairment of quality of daily living.
The most common symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and sometimes, vomiting. Hemorrhoids, edema or swelling of the feet and hands, and shortness of breath are also frequent manifestations. Typically, cancer patients suffer weight loss, but if they also develop malignant ascites, they may gain weight due to the large amount of fluid in the abdomen.
A team of physicians usually manages cancer patients. These include the oncologist who is a cancer specialist, a gastroenterologist who treats patients with gastrointestinal problems, and a surgeon who performs surgical operations. They may request imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound, and X-ray of the abdomen for evaluation of these patients. Analysis of the cells contained in the abdominal fluid is often important for diagnosis. Measurements of protein, cells, and other substances in the blood are also included.
The main aim of malignant ascites treatment is frequently to lessen the depressing and agonizing symptoms experienced by most patients. They are usually advised to minimize the amount of sodium and liquid they consume. Diuretic medications may also be given to control bloating and to get rid of excess fluids in the body. Each patient, however, is usually managed individually as their symptoms may differ from each other. Some patients may benefit from a certain therapy while others may not show improvement.
Paracentesis is another procedure that can lessen the amount of fluid in the abdomen. It is also a common method used to obtain samples of the ascitic fluid for analysis. By taking large volumes of fluid in the area, symptoms like shortness of breath and abdominal pain may temporarily be relieved.