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Ann Oncol. 2012 Feb;23(2):298-304. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdr306. Epub 2011 Jun 27.

Cancer of unknown primary: progress in the search for improved and rapid diagnosis leading toward superior patient outcomes.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Medical Oncology, Sarah Cannon Cancer Center and Research Institute, Nashville 37203, USA.


This paper explores the enigma of cancer of unknown primary (CUP) in relation to rapidly improving molecular diagnostic approaches. It is based on the first global collaboration meeting on improving research and clinical outcomes in CUP organized by the CUP Foundation. We review the difficulties of classifying this widely heterogeneous disease and the available diagnostic and pathological evaluative techniques, focusing on molecular profiling. Retrospective studies in CUP patients are shown to provide indirect validation of the accuracy of several platforms of gene expression profiling assays that may identify CUP subsets that respond favorably to active chemotherapy regimens. This review concludes that the recent major improvements in pathologic and molecular diagnostics, coupled with new improved therapies for several specific advanced solid tumors, need to be harmonized with more evidence from clinical-translational trials. All patients with CUP could thus be appropriately managed without the constant uncertainty that has previously severely hampered patient care and optimal outcomes. The longer-term objective is to understand the biology of highly metastatic disease, leading to the development of future global therapeutic programs. Current clinical studies, such as CUP-ONE, will address some of these issues.

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