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Cancer of Unknown Primary Treatment

Your treatment at MD Anderson for a cancer of unknown primary (CUP) is individualized to provide the best options with the least impact on your body. As one of the nation’s largest cancer centers, MD Anderson sees a higher level of CUP patients than many other centers, giving us experience that can be vital in achieving a successful outcome.

Because each patient – and each cancer of unknown primary – is one of a kind, we tailor your treatment to match your needs. Our team approach ensures that some of the best and brightest minds work together to provide optimal care.

Cancer of Unknown Primary Treatments

If you are diagnosed with CUP, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. Several factors are taken into consideration, including:

  • Extent: the number of areas of the body affected by a CUP tumor and the size of these cancerous areas
  • Site: Which organs are affected - lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bones, etc.
  • Your general health

Your treatment for cancer of unknown primary will be customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.

Surgery may be used if the cancer is in only one area, such as the lymph nodes or one organ. The type of surgery depends on where the CUP is located. Surgery may be combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy: MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced chemotherapy options for CUP.

Radiation therapy: MD Anderson provides the very latest radiation treatments, including:

  • Brachytherapy: Tiny radioactive seeds are placed in the body close to the tumor
  • 3D-conformal radiation therapy: Several radiation beams are given in the exact shape of the tumor
  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): Treatment is tailored to the specific shape of the tumor

Proton therapy: The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson is one of the world’s largest and most advanced centers. Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly into the tumor, sparing nearby healthy tissue and vital organs.  

Targeted therapies: MD Anderson is among just a few cancer centers in the nation that are able to offer targeted therapies for some types of cancer of unknown primary. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow.

Treatment at MD Anderson

Cancer of unknown primary is treated in our Gastrointestinal Center.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about cancer of unknown primary in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.


MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.


Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.

Prevention and Screening

Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.