Cancer Of The Small Intestine

Cancers may develop in the small intestine too, but they are not very common.

  • The symptoms of cancer in the small intestine include bloody stools, abdominal cramps and vomiting. Occasionally the tumor may cause blockage in the intestine.
  • Endoscopic examination and imaging tests like barium x-rays help in diagnosis.
  • The cancerous tumors can be surgically removed.

Among the different types of cancer of the small intestine, adenocarcinomas are the most common. They originate from the glandular cells of the intestinal wall. Generally, malignant tumors in the small intestine are rare with less than six thousand people being affected by them every year in the US. However, those who have Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of developing cancers of the small intestine, especially the adenocarcinomas.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The malignant tumors in the small intestine may start bleeding, which results in the usual symptom of blood in the stool. When the cancerous tumors grow in size, they may cause obstruction in the small intestine. The symptoms of obstruction are usually abdominal cramps, vomiting and abdominal distension.

When a person comes with symptoms such as bloody stool, abdominal cramps and vomiting, the doctor may conduct a physical examination. If cancer of the upper part of the digestive tract is suspected, an upper endoscopy examination is conducted which helps to make an accurate diagnosis. The upper part of the intestine called duodenum and the middle portion jejunum can be viewed through a flexible endoscope which is inserted through the mouth. During the endoscopic examination, a biopsy of the tissue sample can be obtained for further tests. The last part of the intestine named ileum is accessed from the anus using a flexible viewing tube called colonoscope which is threaded through the large intestine into the ileum. An x-ray using radio opaque barium solution for contrast can also show the abnormal growths in the small intestine. In a diagnostic test called capsule endoscopy, the patient is given a capsule containing a tiny camera inside. As the capsule passes through the different portions of the digestive tract, it records and transmits the internal images so that all the abnormalities along the way can be detected.

In another imaging test called arteriography using radio opaque dye and x-ray, the dye is injected into the artery supplying the affected part, so that the abnormality may be shown clearly in the x-ray. This test is preferred to barium swallow when there is bleeding from the tumors. To detect the location and extent of bleeding, x-ray is taken after the injection of radioactive technetium into the artery so that the bleeding can be observed and surgically repaired. Occasionally surgery is required to locate the tumor, in such cases; excision of the tumor also is done at the same time.


Surgery is the best option for malignant tumors of the small intestine. After the removal of the cancerous tumors, radiation as well as chemotherapy may be done but they do not have any significant role in prolonging life.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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