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Appendix cancer symptoms

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on June 8, 2022.

Appendix cancer typically does not cause symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. Appendix cancer symptoms may be different for each person, and any one of them may also indicate other, benign (noncancerous) conditions.

This overview will cover the the most common symptoms of appendix cancer (also referred to as appendiceal cancer), including:

Bloating

Feeling bloated, or noticing an increase in abdominal girth, may sometimes be an indication of appendix cancer. Because appendix cancer doesn’t usually result in symptoms until it’s spread, feeling bloated isn’t as common in appendix cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the appendix (localized appendix cancer). Beyond bloating, in some cases, appendix cancer may also cause protrusion of the belly button.

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is an acute medical condition that leads to painful swelling of the appendix. It may be caused by an infection or an obstruction and may lead to a burst appendix if not treated. In some situations, the patient may not be diagnosed with appendix cancer until he or she has had an appendectomy (removal of the appendix) to treat appendicitis.

However, appendicitis, like the other symptoms mentioned here, doesn’t necessarily mean the patient has appendix cancer.

Ovarian masses

In women, a pelvic mass may be the first indication of appendix cancer, but it’s sometimes mistaken for ovarian cancer.

If a pelvic mass is found, the care team will typically perform a biopsy to examine the tumor cells during the diagnostic process and determine whether the cancer originated in the appendix or the ovary.

Loss of appetite

Appendix cancer may lead to a loss of appetite. It may also result in a patient feeling very full, even after only eating a small amount.

Multiple factors may have led to this side effect. For example, the location of the tumor near the abdominal cavity may put pressure on the digestive organs, causing a feeling of fullness. Or fluid may have built up in the abdominal cavity, which may also lead to that full sensation. Doctors may refer to this fluid accumulation as “mucinous ascites.”

Changes in bowel function

Changes to normal bowel function may be an indicator of appendix cancer. As the cancer grows, it may cause intestinal discomfort, blockages or changes to the body. This may include constipation, diarrhea or other unusual gastrointestinal symptoms.

Pain in the lower right abdomen

Localized appendix cancer may feel similar to appendicitis, causing abdominal pain. This pain is often most severe in the lower-right section of the abdomen, which is where the appendix is located. But, in some cases, the pain may be stronger in the pelvic region.

Indigestion

Because cancer of the appendix may cause appendicitis, patients may experience indigestion or other gastrointestinal symptoms. This is because patients with appendicitis are known to have an increased prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

New hernias

In men, hernias are often the first indicator of appendix cancer. A hernia develops when tissue or an organ bulges around the skin, in this case, in the abdominal area.

When a patient has appendix cancer, the tumor may put pressure on the groin area, potentially leading to the development of a hernia.

Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting may occur in patients with appendix cancer and is more common once the cancer cells have spread beyond the appendix to other parts of the body (also called metastasis). In addition to vomiting, some appendiceal cancer patients may experience nausea.

Many of the above symptoms of appendix cancer are also common indicators of acute appendicitis and other medical conditions other than cancer. If patients notice any unexpected changes to their body, they should see a doctor to evaluate their symptoms.

If appendix cancer is diagnosed, the care team will work with the patient to develop a cancer care plan that includes treatment options based on the cancer stage, the patient’s overall health and quality of life.

Next topic: What are the types of appendix cancer?

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