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.

Although the small intestine makes up the largest part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, small intestine cancers are rare, accounting for fewer than 1 in 10 cancers of the GI tract in the United States, which is why it is best managed by gastrointestinal cancer specialists with a focus on these tumors.

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: Cancers of the gland cells that line the inside of the intestine which account for about 1 in 3 small intestine cancers
  • Carcinoid tumors: A type of neuroendocrine tumor (NET) which tends to be grow slowly. They are the most common type of small intestine tumor
  • Lymphomas: Cancer in immune cells called lymphocytes that can develop almost anywhere in the body, including the small intestine
  • Sarcomas: Cancer occurring 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: 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
  • Blood in the stool, which might appear red or black
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Skin flushing
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Risk Factors for Small Intestine Cancer

Certain people are at higher risk of developing small intestine cancer

Risk factors for small intestine cancer may include:

  • Age: People over age 60 are most likely to develop the condition
  • Family history: Inherited conditions including familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC), Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS), MUTYH-associated polyposis, and cystic fibrosis (CF) are all linked to small intestine cancer, and African Americans are at higher risk for developing small intestine cancer than other races
  • Health history: A history of celiac disease, colon cancer, or Crohn’s disease can increase your risk for small intestine cancer
  • Personal history: Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a diet high in red meat and salted or smoked foods can contribute to condition onset
  • Sex: Men are at a slightly higher risk for developing small intestine cancer than women

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

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Gastrointestinal Cancer

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