Intestinal lymphoma is a form of cancer that begins in the lymph tissue within the intestines. It can cause nausea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and bloody stools. Surgery may be required.

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 80,550 people will receive a diagnosis of some type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2023. This group will include some individuals who have intestinal lymphoma.

While intestinal lymphoma is rare, early detection is key to positive outcomes. If you are experiencing symptoms of intestinal distress, it’s important to talk with a doctor about determining the cause.

We’ve gathered information about intestinal lymphoma to help you feel more prepared in discussing this with your doctor.

“Lymphoma” is a term for cancer cells that have originated in lymph tissues. Lymph tissues can be found throughout the body, so lymphoma can begin in many different locations.

Intestinal lymphoma refers to cancer cells that originated in the lymph tissues of the intestines.

About 30% to 40% of non-Hodgkin’s extranodal lymphomas are located in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, according to a 2019 review. Most GI lymphomas affect the stomach, but the small intestine is the second most common location.

So, another way to think of intestinal lymphoma is a type of gastric lymphoma where the intestines are impacted.

Symptoms of intestinal lymphoma can include:

  • weight loss
  • crampy abdominal pain
  • a feeling of a fullness
  • bloating in the stomach
  • nausea or vomiting
  • rectal bleeding
  • bloody stools
  • severe constipation
  • bowel obstruction

Most types of lymphomas develop from errors in the body’s production of white blood cells or the transformation of a single white blood cell into a cancerous cell.

Chronic inflammation from various diseases or disorders may also play a role in causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by causing the immune system to be constantly active.

Some risk factors for intestinal lymphoma include:

If your doctor suspects intestinal problems, they may order a variety of tests to help determine the cause. These tests can indicate the presence of cancer and rule out other conditions.

Some tests your doctor might request include:

Intestinal lymphoma can also be discovered during an endoscopy. To perform this procedure, your doctor may either pass a thin tube containing a small camera through your mouth or rectum, or they may have you swallow a small pill-size capsule that includes a camera.

Doctors may also choose to perform a biopsy during an endoscopy if they see unusual tissue or masses.

After intestinal lymphoma is identified, doctors will need to stage the lymphoma. Staging provides them with the necessary information to estimate someone’s outlook and suggest the most appropriate treatments.

Doctors rely on a variety of diagnostic images for staging, which can include:

Doctors suggest an individualized treatment plan based on a variety of factors, such as:

  • the stage of the lymphoma and any locations it may have spread to
  • any perforations or obstructions that may exist
  • your age and health history
  • the severity of symptoms

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medications are some of the potential treatments for intestinal lymphoma. A stem cell transplant with chemotherapy may also help reduce the chance of remission.

In addition to treating the lymphoma, doctors may need to address damage to the intestines. Surgery may be necessary to fix any perforations in the intestines.

People with intestinal lymphoma may also have problems absorbing necessary amounts of nutrients. Doctors may suggest a feeding tube or nutrients given intravenously to help mitigate this.

Other treatment notes

Your doctor may mention there is the opportunity to join a clinical trial. Like any other potential form of treatment, you can discuss the pros and cons of this treatment with your doctor and healthcare team.

Some people with advanced intestinal lymphoma may choose to decline treatments that can negatively impact their quality of life, like chemotherapy. In these cases, individuals with intestinal lymphoma may opt to focus on treatments that manage and relieve symptoms rather than prolong life.

If you are considering acupuncture, health supplements, chiropractic care, or other alternative treatments, it’s important to discuss these with your doctor as well. Sometimes complementary approaches can interfere with medical treatment.

Whether you’re planning complementary treatments in addition to or in place of medical treatments, it’s important to talk through any potential risks or complications with your medical team.

The prognosis, or outlook, for a person with intestinal lymphoma can vary greatly depending upon factors like:

  • whether or not it has spread to other areas of the body
  • the stage of intestinal lymphoma
  • a person’s general health
  • how responsive the condition is to treatment
  • the type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Every person’s experience with cancer is unique. Your doctor can offer you a better idea of your chances of remission and survival once they have finished the necessary testing to stage your lymphoma.

Intestinal lymphoma is a form of cancer that originates in the lymph tissue within the intestines. It can cause nausea, abdominal cramping, weight loss, and bloody stools.

If you are experiencing symptoms of gastrointestinal distress without an obvious cause, talk with a doctor. While only a small percentage of people will learn they have intestinal lymphoma, early detection can improve outcomes.