Small Intestine Cancer

What Is Small Intestine Cancer?

Cancers of the small intestine — or small bowel cancers — are specialized cancers of the gastrointestinal (digestive) system.

These cancers form in the tissues of the small intestine, the organ that breaks down food and absorbs nutrients. The small intestine is about 15 to 20 feet long.

Small intestine cancers are rare. Doctors diagnosed only about 10,000 new cases in the United States in 2016.

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer advanced care for people with small intestine cancer through our Colon and GI Cancer Treatment Program.

Our team includes experts from many fields including:

  • Gastroenterology
  • Pathology

The team works with you and your doctor to tailor a treatment plan that works for you.

We also offer risk reduction education and early detection services for many types of cancers.

Even if you've received small bowel cancer screening or care at another center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has treatment options for you.

Common Types of Small Intestine Cancer

The most common type of small intestine cancer is adenocarcinoma, making up about 30 to 40 percent of these cancers. Adenocarcinomas form in the cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.

Other types include:

  • Carcinoid tumor — this slow-growing cancer forms in neuroendocrine cells in the intestine.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor — this is a tumor in the wall of the intestine that may or may not be cancerous.
  • Lymphoma — this is cancer that begins in the lymph tissue.
  • Sarcoma — this cancer begins in the supportive or connective tissue.

Small Intestine Cancer Early Signs and Symptoms

In the early stages, symptoms may be vague and hard to connect to cancer. Other digestive problems can cause like symptoms.

Some early warning signs of small intestine cancer include:

  • Anemia.
  • Blood in the stool.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Lump in the stomach.
  • Pain or swelling in the middle of the stomach.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Weakness and fatigue.

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Even if the cause isn't small bowel cancer, they might be signs of other health problems that need treatment.

Small Intestine Cancer Risk Factors

The cause of this type of cancer is often unknown.

Some factors that seem to increase the risk of getting small intestine cancer include:

  • Age 60 or older.
  • Alcohol or tobacco use.
  • Being male.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Crohn's disease.
  • Diet high in fat or in cured or smoked foods.
  • Family history or inherited conditions, such as:
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis.
    • Lynch syndrome.

Early Stages of Small Intestine Cancer

Doctors define staging based on:

  • How deep the tumor has penetrated the lining of the small intestine.
  • Whether the cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other organs.

Doctors stage the progress of small intestine adenocarcinoma as follows:

  • Stage 0 — the tumor hasn't gone beyond the top layer of mucosa cells in the small intestine. Doctors refer to this stage as “carcinoma in situ.”
  • Stage I — the tumor has grown into deeper cells but hasn't spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage II — this stage can be A, B, or C. It depends on how deeply the tumor has grown into the cells. The cancer still hasn't spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III — this stage can also be A, B, or C, depending on how many lymph nodes the cancer has spread to.
  • Stage IV — the cancer has spread (metastasized) to distant parts of the body, such as ovary, lung, peritoneum, or liver.

Contact Us About Colon, Rectal, and Gastrointestinal Cancer 

To learn more about Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancers or to make an appointment, you can: