Duodenal Cancer

Medically reviewed by Christina Chun, MPH on January 17, 2018Written by Kiara Anthony on January 17, 2018

What is duodenal cancer?

The duodenum is the first and shortest part of the small intestine. It’s located between your stomach and the jejunum, the next portion of your small intestine. The duodenum is shaped like a horseshoe and receives partially digested food from the stomach.

This organ plays a key role in the digestive process. Chemical secretions and bile are emptied into the duodenum to help break down food passed from the stomach. It’s here that vitamins and other nutrients begin to absorb into the body before the food passes to the jejunum.

Duodenal cancer, though rare, can affect this digestive process and prevent your body from absorbing necessary minerals needed to function properly.

Duodenal cancer symptoms

Duodenal cancer is a rare form of cancer in the gastrointestinal tract. When cancer cells begin to form in the duodenum, tumors can block food from passing through the digestive tract.

When food is unable to pass through the small intestine or when the body is unable to absorb necessary vitamins, you may experience a number of symptoms:

In most cases, symptoms from duodenal cancer will appear in the later stages of the disease once the tumor has grown large enough to block food passage. At that point, you may notice an abdominal mass.

Types of duodenal cancer

Duodenal cancer can be classified into five major types:

adenocarcinomaThis form of cancer affects the glandular cells responsible for producing digestive chemicals, mucus, and other bodily fluids from internal organs.
sarcomaA sarcoma is a type of malignant tumor that forms in the bone or soft tissues of the body such as fat, blood vessels, and muscle.
lymphomaThis cancer type occurs in the immune system.
gastrointestinal stromal tumorTumors from this cancer form in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract walls.
carcinoid tumorsTumors from this cancer type most often form in the GI system, and can cause carcinoid syndrome. They also can spread to other sites and organs in the body.

Diagnosing this disease

Diagnosing duodenal cancer can be difficult because symptoms occur in later stages of the disease. This can also make it difficult to treat.

Duodenal cancer can be diagnosed in five different stages:

stage 0Cancer cells are contained in the walls of the organ.
stage 1Cancer cells are located only in the duodenum and haven’t spread to lymph nodes.
stage 2Cancer has grown through the layers of the intestine to the connective tissues, muscles, and lymph nodes.
stage 3Cancer cells have spread to nearby organs or other parts of the small intestine.
stage 4Cancer has spread throughout your abdomen, bones, or more distant organs such as the lungs, liver, or pancreas.

Some procedures to help detect cancer in your small intestine include:

  • tests that generate detailed images of your GI tract, such as an MRI or CT scan
  • endoscopy, which involves examining the inside of your GI tract using a flexible tube with a small camera attached
  • removal of a small amount of tissue for analysis, called a biopsy
  • barium swallow, which is an X-ray procedure that examines your upper GI tract

Duodenal cancer treatment

Treatment for this rare cancer greatly depends on the stage it has been diagnosed. However, the most common and effective treatment option is surgery alone or accompanied by chemotherapy, radiation, or both.

Doctors will try to remove tumors in the duodenum to allow food passage from the stomach. Another surgical option is the Whipple procedure, which removes the duodenum, gallbladder, and a portion of the pancreas.

An alternative to surgery is chemotherapy to destroy malignant cancer cells. However, this treatment method can cause a number of side effects, including:

Some people choose to participate in more holistic treatments, often by incorporating home remedies and herbs into their daily routine. Some herbal remedies can help to minimize cancerous tumors and improve uncomfortable symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you do want to try using such treatments. They may have suggestions for which to try or concerns about reactions that could occur with medications you’re taking.

Outlook for duodenal cancer

Duodenal cancer affects the first part of the small intestine. It can be life-threatening if left untreated. Because it’s so rare, research is still being done to find more effective treatments and ways to detect the cancer earlier.

Duodenal cancer can be difficult to treat because symptoms occur later in the disease. If your family has a history of cancer, or if you begin to experience irregular symptoms, visit your doctor. Early detection can provide the best opportunity to treat and eliminate cancer.

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