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About Small Intestine Cancer

The small intestine, also known as the small bowel, is where most of the end absorption of nutrients and minerals from food takes place. It is located between the stomach and large intestine and receives bile and pancreatic juice from the pancreatic duct to aid in digestion. The small intestine also plays a role in your body’s germ-fighting immune system as it contains cells that fight bacteria and viruses that enter your body through your mouth. Most experts believe that small intestine cancer develop much like colorectal cancer, beginning with a small growth on the inner lining of the intestine, called a polyp. Overtime the polyp can change into cancer.

Types of Small Intestine Cancer

Small intestine cancer is classified according to which type of cell the cancer occurs in.

The four major types of small intestine cancers are:

  • Adenocarcinomas occur in the gland cells that line the inside of the intestine. They account for about 1 in 3 small intestine cancers.
  • Carcinoid tumors are a type of neuroendocrine tumor (NET), and they tend to be slow growing. They are the most common type of small intestine tumor.
  • Lymphomas occur in immune cells called lymphocytes and can develop almost anywhere in the body, including the small intestine.
  • Sarcomas occur in connective tissues, such as muscle. The most common sarcomas in the intestine are known as gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs).

Less common types of tumors can also develop in the small intestine, such as:

  • Melanoma is a cancer that develops from cells called melanocytes, which give skin its color. While melanoma usually starts in the skin, there are also small numbers of melanocytes in the mucosa, which is a tissue that lines various parts of the body, including the entirety of the small intestine. Melanoma of the small intestine develops in the mucosa and is extremely rare.

Symptoms of Small Intestine Cancer:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Blood in the stool, which might appear red or black
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Skin flushing

Risk Factors for Small Intestine Cancer

African Americans are at higher risk for developing small intestine cancer than other races, and men are at a slightly higher risk for developing small intestine cancer than women.

Other common risk factors for small intestine cancer include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • A diet high in red meat and salted or smoked foods
  • A history of celiac disease, colon cancer, or Crohn’s disease
  • Older age, usually over the age of 60, though it can occur at any age
  • Inherited conditions, such as Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC), Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS), MUTYH-associated polyposis, or Cystic fibrosis (CF)

Treating Small Intestine Cancer at UT Health Austin

Treatment requires accurate diagnosis and a care plan tailored to the specific type of tumor, the tumor’s location, and the overall needs of the patient. The different behavior of different tumor types helps drive decisions about treatment, which may include combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Care Team Approach

At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncofertility specialists, onco-psychiatrists, genetic counselors, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more as well as other members of the CaLM Care Team who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.

Learn More About Your Care Team

Gastrointestinal Cancer

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1601 Trinity Street, Bldg. A, Austin, TX 78712
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