Cancer of unknown primary (CUP) is diagnosed at the metastatic stage, and despite extensive diagnostic work-up, the primary tumor often remains unidentified. No data are available on familial clustering of CUP. We hypothesize that familial clustering of CUP with other cancers may be informative of the primary sites.
A total of 35,168 patients with CUP were identified in the Swedish Family-Cancer Database, and risks between family members were calculated for concordant (CUP-CUP) and discordant (CUP-any other cancer) cancers using standardized incidence ratio (SIR).
Familial cases of CUP accounted for 2.8% of all CUP cases in the offspring generation. Familial SIR for CUP was 1.69 when a sibling was diagnosed with CUP. As to discordant associations between siblings, CUP was associated with lung (SIR, 1.87), kidney (SIR, 1.82), liver (SIR, 1.67), ovarian (SIR, 1.45), colorectal (SIR, 1.26), and breast (SIR, 1.15) cancers and melanoma (SIR, 1.26). Upper aerodigestive tract, bladder, pancreatic, and prostate cancers were additionally associated with CUP. Notably, CUP was associated with families of kidney, lung, and colorectal cancers.
The present data show that CUP is not a disease of random metastatic cancers but, instead, a disease of a defined set of cancers. The association of CUP with families of kidney, lung, and colorectal cancers suggests a marked genetic basis and shared metastatic mechanisms by many cancer types. Familial sites shared by CUP generally match those arising in tissue-of-origin determinations and, hence, suggest sites of origin for CUP. Mechanistic exploration of CUP may provide insight into defense against primary tumors and the metastatic process.