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Peritoneal washing

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by

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

This page was updated on December 23, 2021.

Your peritoneal cavity is the area of the abdomen that houses the intestines, liver and stomach. During a peritoneal washing, doctors bathe this cavity with a saltwater solution that’s later removed and tested for cancer cells.

Peritoneal washing may be part of the diagnosis and/or treatment plan for several types of cancer, including cancers of the pancreas, ovary and uterus. It’s commonly performed as part of surgery for ovarian and uterine cancers, to determine whether the disease has spread to the peritoneal cavity.

How to prepare for peritoneal washing

You don’t have to do anything special to prepare for peritoneal washing. Because this procedure is typically performed during a surgery used to diagnose or treat cancer, you should instead focus on preparing for the main operation.

Below are some ways you can prepare:

Educate yourself on the type of surgery you’re having and the surgical approach. There are many types of cancer surgeries, and the surgical approach may make a difference in your recovery time.

  • An open surgery involves a longer incision and longer healing period.
  • Laparoscopic surgery is performed with smaller incisions in the lower abdomen and pelvic area, and it usually results in faster healing.
  • Robotic-assisted surgery, which uses small instruments guided by a surgeon, also usually means faster healing.

Let your care team know about all medications that you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. You may have to stop using certain types of medications for a few days before surgery. This could include blood-thinning medications such as warfarin and aspirin.

Speak with your doctor about exercising in advance of surgery. Your doctor may ask you to start walking daily or doing another physical activity. This could help you to lose weight or improve your physical condition before the operation.

Find out from your care team what changes you may experience after surgery. This may include limitations you may have in your recovery period and longer term, such as changes in bowel function.

What to expect from peritoneal washing

Before cancer surgery and peritoneal washing, you’ll receive anesthesia to prevent discomfort during the procedure.

For the peritoneal washing, your surgeon will use a saltwater solution to wash the peritoneal cavity. Once the solution, along with cells from the peritoneal cavity, is retrieved, it’s sent to a laboratory to be analyzed for cancer cells in a test called peritoneal cytology.

Benefits and risks of peritoneal washing

The benefit of peritoneal washing is that it allows doctors to see whether cancer has spread to the peritoneal cavity. Knowing this information can help your care team recommend a course of treatment for you.

There’s no specific risk associated with the peritoneal washing itself. However, any type of major surgery performed along with peritoneal washing comes with a number of risks, including:

  • Blood clots
  • Damage to nearby tissue and organs
  • Infections
  • Pain

Your care team should speak with you about how to reduce post-surgery risks as much as possible.

Reviewing the results of peritoneal washing

A positive peritoneal cytology means that cancer cells were found in the cells taken after peritoneal washing. A negative one means none were found. Your care team can review the results with you, along with the results from your primary surgery, and go over what other treatments you may need.

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