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Small Intestine Cancer: Types, Symptoms, Treatment and more

Small intestine cancer is a relatively rare malignancy that develops in the tissues of the small intestine, a vital part of the digestive system. This type of cancer often presents challenges in early detection due to its subtle symptoms, such as abdominal pain, weight loss, and changes in bowel habits, which are shared with other gastrointestinal conditions. Small intestine cancer can manifest in various forms, with adenocarcinoma being the most common subtype. The exact causes of small intestine cancer remain unclear, but factors like a family history of the disease, Crohn’s disease, or certain genetic conditions may elevate the risk. Timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a favorable prognosis, typically involving a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. As with any cancer, increasing awareness and understanding of the disease can aid in its early detection and management, ultimately improving the chances of successful treatment.

Small intestine cancer symptoms

Small intestine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer, and its symptoms can be subtle and often mimic those of other gastrointestinal conditions. Common symptoms of small intestine cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pain: Persistent or crampy abdominal pain, especially in the midsection or upper abdomen, is a common symptom.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Significant and unintentional weight loss can be a sign of cancer, as the tumor may interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
  • Changes in bowel habits: These can include diarrhea, constipation, or other alterations in normal bowel movements.
  • Blood in the stool: This can manifest as either visible blood or black, tarry stools, which could be a sign of bleeding in the digestive tract.
  • Fatigue: Feeling unusually tired or weak, which can be related to anemia caused by bleeding from the tumor.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Persistent nausea or vomiting, which may be related to a partial bowel obstruction caused by the tumor.
  • A lump or mass in the abdomen: In some cases, a tumor in the small intestine can be felt as a palpable mass during a physical examination.
  • Jaundice: If the tumor blocks the bile ducts, it can lead to yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

Types of small intestine cancer

Small intestine cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer that develops in the tissues of the small intestine, which is part of the digestive system. There are several types of small intestine cancer, including:


Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of small intestine cancer. It originates in the cells that line the inner surface of the small intestine. These cells produce mucus and digestive enzymes.

Carcinoid tumors

Carcinoid tumors are a type of neuroendocrine tumor that can develop in the small intestine. They are typically slow-growing and can produce hormones that cause various symptoms.


Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, but it can sometimes affect the small intestine. Small intestine lymphoma can be either non-Hodgkin lymphoma or Hodgkin lymphoma.

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs)

GISTs are rare tumors that can occur in the small intestine, although they more commonly develop in the stomach. These tumors originate in the specialized cells of the digestive tract called interstitial cells of Cajal.


Sarcomas are a diverse group of cancers that can affect various tissues, including the soft tissues of the small intestine. Gastrointestinal sarcomas, such as leiomyosarcoma and liposarcoma, can develop in the small intestine.

Small intestine cancer treatment

Cancer of the small intestine is a relatively rare type of cancer, and treatment options depend on the type and stage of the cancer. The small intestine is divided into three parts: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of small intestine cancer, but other rare types can occur as well. Treatment typically involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Here’s an overview of the treatment options:


  • Surgery is the primary treatment for small intestine cancer. The goal is to remove the tumor and any nearby affected tissue. The type of surgery may vary depending on the location and extent of the tumor. Surgical options include:
  • Resection: Removing the affected portion of the small intestine.
  • Whipple procedure: If the cancer is in the duodenum, a more extensive surgery known as the Whipple procedure may be performed, which involves removing part of the pancreas, gallbladder, and nearby lymph nodes in addition to the tumor.
  • Palliative surgery: In cases where the cancer is advanced and cannot be completely removed, surgery may still be used to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to target any remaining cancer cells. It can also be used as palliative care to alleviate symptoms.


Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or inhibit their growth. It can be administered before or after surgery, depending on the stage of the cancer. It is sometimes used in combination with radiation therapy.

Targeted Therapy

Some small intestine cancers may be treated with targeted therapies, which are drugs that specifically target certain proteins or pathways involved in cancer growth. These treatments are often used in cases where standard chemotherapy is not effective.


Immunotherapy is a newer approach in cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. While it has shown promise in various cancer types, its role in small intestine cancer is still being researched.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials may be available for small intestine cancer, offering access to experimental treatments and therapies that are still under investigation.

Diagnosing small intestine cancer

Diagnosing small intestine cancer typically involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examinations, and various medical tests. The small intestine is a relatively inaccessible part of the digestive system, making diagnosis more challenging than other types of cancer. Here are the steps and tests commonly used in the diagnostic process:

Medical History and Physical Examination:

  • Your doctor will begin by taking a detailed medical history, including any risk factors and symptoms you may be experiencing. Common symptoms of small intestine cancer include abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, changes in bowel habits, and blood in the stool.
  • A physical examination will be conducted to check for any abdominal masses or other signs of disease.

Blood Tests:

Blood tests can provide information about your overall health and help identify any abnormalities, although they cannot directly diagnose small intestine cancer.

Imaging Tests:

  • CT Scan: A computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen and pelvis can help visualize the small intestine and identify any masses or abnormalities.
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to get detailed images of the small intestine.
  • Barium Swallow: This test involves drinking a liquid containing barium, which coats the small intestine and allows it to show up on X-rays.


  • Upper Endoscopy: This procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera (endoscope) down your throat to examine the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). This is often used to detect tumors or take biopsies.
  • Capsule Endoscopy: You swallow a small capsule that contains a camera. As it moves through the digestive tract, it takes pictures, allowing for the examination of the entire small intestine.


If suspicious lesions or tumors are found during endoscopy, a biopsy may be performed to collect a small tissue sample for examination under a microscope to confirm the presence of cancer.


In some cases, laparoscopic surgery may be used to directly examine and obtain tissue samples from the small intestine.

Exploratory Surgery:

In rare cases, if other diagnostic methods are inconclusive, open surgery may be necessary to explore the small intestine and take tissue samples.

Outlook Small Intestine Cancer

The outlook for small intestine cancer (also known as small bowel cancer) can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of cancer, its stage at diagnosis, and the individual’s overall health. Small intestine cancer is relatively rare compared to other types of cancer, and because of its location in the body, it may be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. However, advances in medical treatment have improved outcomes in recent years.

Ashish Matoliya
Ashish Matoliya
Ashish brings a unique blend of expertise, empathy, and practical guidance to his writing. His articles are not just informative but also designed to inspire and motivate. Whether you're looking for workout tips, strategies for managing mental health, or seeking to improve your overall well-being, Ashish's content is your roadmap to a healthier and happier life.


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