Small intestine cancer can also be called small bowel cancer or cancer of the small bowel. The small intestine is part of the body’s digestive system and resembles a long tube that is connected to the large intestine. It helps to process vitamins and nutrients in food and remove waste from the body. Compared to other malignancies usually found in the gastrointestinal tract—gastric (stomach) cancer and colorectal cancer among them—small intestine cancer is decidedly rare. In the United States, approximately 7,500 new cases were diagnosed in 2011, with males at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Small Intestine Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Patients with existing gastrointestinal disorders, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, are at a higher risk of developing small intestine cancer.
Patients that exhibit the following symptoms should seek medical attention immediately:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lumps in the abdomen
- Blood in the stool
These symptoms may not necessarily indicate small intestine cancer, but can lead to a more serious condition if left untreated.
Small Intestine Cancer Diagnosis
A number of tests are utilized by medical professionals to diagnose this condition, including:
- Physical exam: A doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam to detect any lumps or abnormalities in the body.
- Blood chemistry study: A small sample is drawn and examined to check for a higher or lower amount of any substance in the blood, which can indicate an infection or other serious condition.
- Liver function: A blood sample is drawn from the liver to determine particular substance levels. Higher than normal levels can indicate liver disease, which may be caused by small intestine cancer.
- Abdominal x-ray: An x-ray can detect any abnormalities within the abdomen.
- Barium enema: Used in conjunction with the x-ray, an injection of barium (a silvery-white liquid) is inserted into the rectum and coats the abdomen. This will highlight any abnormalities when the x-ray is taken.
- Fecal occult blood test: A test that inspects the stool for traces of blood. The specimen is then examined under a microscope.
There are 5 forms of small intestine cancer:
- Adult soft tissue sarcoma
- Childhood soft tissue sarcoma
- Adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor
- Depending on the stage of cancer and whether it is in the upper (duodenal) or lower (jejunum and ileum) part of the intestine, the tumor may be removed surgically.
Small Intestine Cancer Treatment
Treatment methods depend on the stage, location, and size of the tumor. Some abnormalities can be removed surgically; others may be treated effectively with radiation or chemotherapy.
Small Intestine Cancer Outlook
A patient’s prognosis depends largely on whether the mass has metastasized, or spread, to other areas of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, or peritoneum (tissue lining the abdominal walls that protects the other internal organs). A new diagnosis or recurring case of small intestine cancer also impacts the patient’s prognosis.