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JAMA Oncology Patient Page
December 19, 2019

Ascites, or Fluid in the Belly, in Patients With Cancer

Author Affiliations
  • 1Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 2The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas
JAMA Oncol. Published online December 19, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.5409

Ascites (uh-SIGH-tees) refers to excess fluid in the abdomen. This fluid collects in the space within the walls of the abdomen, between the abdominal organs. It is common in patients with liver disease and cirrhosis, though patients with cancer can also develop ascites.

Two main reasons cause ascites in patients with cancer. First, cancer can spread to the lining of the organs—the peritoneum—and make it leaky, causing malignant ascites. Second, cancer can spread to the liver and cause increased pressure in the liver. Certain cancers, such as ovarian, pancreatic, liver, and colon cancers, are more likely to cause ascites.

Patients can experience swelling and tightness of the abdomen, feeling full when eating, nausea, or shortness of breath. The fluid can become infected, which can cause fever and pain.

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