JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Exploring the biological hallmarks of cancer of unknown primary: where do we stand today?

Elie Rassy, Tarek Assi, Nicholas Pavlidis
British Journal of Cancer 2020, 122 (8): 1124-1132
32042068
Cancer of unknown primary (CUP) affects a small percentage of the general population. Nonetheless, a substantial number of these patients have a poor prognosis and consequently succumb to their illness within a year of diagnosis. The natural history of CUP is characterised by early metastasis from the unknown primary site, aggressive course and resistance to conventional chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the processes by which this orphan disease originates and progresses have not been fully elucidated and its biology remain unclear. Despite the conceptual progress in genetic and molecular profiling made over the past decade, recognition of the genetic and molecular abnormalities involved in CUP, as well as the identification of the tissue of origin remain unresolved issues. This review will outline the biology of CUP by exploring the hallmarks of cancer in order to rationalise the complexities of this enigmatic syndrome. This approach will help the reader to understand where research efforts currently stand and the pitfalls of this quest.

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