What is small intestine cancer?

Small intestine cancer is a rare disease that causes cells in your small intestines to become malignant. When these malignant cells grow at a rapid pace, they form tumors that affect the digestive process.

The small intestine, or small bowel, is an integral part of your digestive system — which also includes the esophagus, stomach, and large intestine. The small bowel breaks down your food and absorbs necessary vitamins and fats.

This organ is a long, coiled tube that’s split into three sections:

  • duodenum, the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach
  • jejunum, the middle portion of the small intestine
  • ileum, the last portion of the small intestine that attaches to the colon

Tumors in any part of your small intestine will affect the digestive process, including how nutrients are absorbed into your body, and block the flow of food.

In its earlier stages, small intestine cancer can be associated with abdominal pain and discomfort. This may be because food can’t pass efficiently through your digestive tract.

Other symptoms you may experience if diagnosed with small intestine cancer include:

If your cancer has progressed, more severe symptoms from small intestine cancer may include:

If you experience any of these symptoms or if they worsen over time, seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms from this form of cancer can also be an indication of other gastrointestinal diseases. Early detection can help ensure you receive the best treatment for your condition.

There are five major types of small intestine cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma. This form begins in your secretory cells. These cells are in tissues that line your major organs and are responsible for releasing mucus and digestive juices.
  • Sarcoma. This type of cancer begins in the bones or soft tissues, including fibrous and connective tissues, muscle, and cartilage.
  • Carcinoid tumors. These tumors grow slowly and may spread to the liver or other parts of the body.
  • Lymphoma. This cancer, which begins in the cells of the immune system, can be further categorized as either Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors. These form in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. They can be benign or malignant.

Proper diagnosis of small bowel cancer requires a thorough evaluation of your medical history and symptoms. This can help determine your risk of small intestine cancer through heredity.

Before recommending treatment, your doctor will also use a series of tests and procedures to accurately diagnose your condition. These procedures will also help determine if your cancer has spread to different areas of your body.

Common procedures used to detect small intestine cancer include:

Treatment ultimately depends on the type of small intestine cancer you develop and how far it has progressed. Your doctor will weigh factors such as these when making treatment recommendations:

  • Has the cancer spread past the wall of your small intestine and into other places in your body, such as the lymph nodes or liver?
  • Can the cancer be removed?
  • Is the diagnosis new or recurrent?

The more common treatment recommendation is surgery, allowing doctors to remove the portion of your intestine affected by tumors. Your doctor may also choose to perform a bypass surgery, a procedure that redirects food around the tumor if it can’t be removed.

Your doctor might recommend chemotherapy and radiation alongside a surgical procedure. These are options for cancer that has become more widespread.

Early detection of small intestine cancer can increase your rate of recovery. If you’ve been diagnosed with small intestine cancer, discuss your treatment options with your doctor.

Small intestine cancer is a rare disease that causes cells in your intestinal tissues to become malignant. Left untreated, small intestine cancer can be life-threatening and can spread to other areas of the body.

Your outlook depends on the type of small intestine cancer you develop, and whether it can be removed, has spread beyond the small intestine, or is recurrent.

Early detection allows doctors to find the best course of treatment for your condition. If you begin experiencing irregular symptoms or if you have a history of intestinal cancer, schedule a visit with your doctor.