What is Malignant Ascites?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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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.


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Post 4

When my sister got ovarian cancer, she soon developed malignant ascites. Her doctor decided that she could benefit from a diuretic. She started taking one, and it helped ease her swelling a good bit.

He also told her to lower her salt intake. He said she should keep it under 2,000 mg of sodium a day. He said she should drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated beverages. This was a challenge for her, because she normally drank two sodas a day, plus coffee in the morning and tea at night.

Giving up caffeine robbed her of one of the only small pleasures she had left. However, the relief that she got from the diuretic and the water was worth it. Being all swollen, it was hard to enjoy drinking anything anyway.

Post 3

Suffering from uterine cancer, my aunt’s discomfort was compounded my malignant ascites. She said she always had the feeling that she had just eaten way too much. She told me that it felt just like being really bloated.

Because of the ascites, her appetite diminished. She could not get hungry while feeling so full. When she did eat, the food made her swollen belly expand further, increasing her misery.

Her feet and hands swelled along with her belly. They felt tingly and hot, and her shoes wouldn’t fit. She had never been overweight before, but the swelling made her appear fat.

Post 2

After a life of alcohol abuse, my uncle developed pancreatic cancer. He did not know he had it until it had progressed to stage four. Then, he developed malignant ascites as well.

I remember being surprised when I saw him with the ascites. As the cancer was growing, he had been losing weight, and he had gotten so sickly looking and rail thin. After the fluid started to build up in his abdomen, he looked like one of those starving children with a bloated belly.

He did have paracentesis, but the fluid returned not long after being removed. The ascites added to his pain and general discomfort.

Post 1

My nephew’s malignant ascites had started affecting the function of his intestines, so he had to undergo paracentesis. He was relieved to know that he would soon be rid of all that uncomfortable excess fluid. He told me that he felt like a balloon had been inflated inside of his abdomen, and he longed to puncture it.

For the procedure, he had to lie down on an x-ray table with his head raised. The doctor cleaned the spot where he planned to insert the needle with a certain kind of soap and draped sterile towels around it.

Then, he numbed my nephew’s belly. Slowly and gently, he stuck the paracentesis needle into the fluid-filled area. He used an ultrasound to find the exact location of the fluid, and he was careful not to hit any blood vessels or intestines.

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