Small Intestine Cancer: Know Cause, Symptoms And Treatment Of This ‘Slow’ Killer!

Genes play a major role in production of proteins by cells as proteins carry major instructions for cellular growth and division

 Onlymyhealth Staff Writer
CancerWritten by: Onlymyhealth Staff WriterPublished at: Mar 22, 2011Updated at: Dec 17, 2020
Small Intestine Cancer: Know Cause, Symptoms And Treatment Of This ‘Slow’ Killer!

While cancer is a disease, the stages are a death trap. Imagine a group of cells slowly coiling your organ like a snake, sucking the vital nutrients and depriving it of life and energy. The group of invaders attack a healthy cell and keep multiplying affecting other organs and degrading their functions. When stages of despair and trauma near, the ability to fight and respond loosens and diseases grapple us in their lethal fold. One of the deadly and rare forms of cancer, small intestine cancer is a form that causes cells in your small intestine to divide and grow unnaturally. The malignant cells can turn ‘cruel’ and develop into a tumour creating obstacles to enjoy your favourite snack.

So, if you are witnessing signs like pain or cramps in the middle portion of your stomach, losing weight without a specific cause, facing a swelling in your abdomen or blood in your stool, you must visit a doctor to look for possible signs of small intestine cancer. In the article, know all about causes, signs, symptoms and more associated with small intestine cancer.


Also Read: What is Cancer Fatigue, Causes And Tips To Fight Cancer Fatigue For A Better Lifestyle

How are Cancers Caused?

A majority of cancers are caused from genetic mutations owing to environmental and lifestyle conditions. The remaining may result from inherited or genetic conditions. An individual’s genetic code indicates the time period of cells to divide and expire. Genetic changes may result in faulty transmission of instructions and result in cancerous growth.

Alongside, exposure to particular substances has been associated with specific cancer risks. The substances popularly known as carcinogens are directly linked to formation of cancer cells. For example, tobacco smoking is linked to a major percent of lung cancer and tobacco is responsible for one out of five cancer deaths worldwide. Diet and physical activity is also linked to the development of specific cancers. Lack of physical activity leads to dangerous repercussions as having negative effect on body weight and immune system. Palliative care in cancer treatment is extremely essential. 

What is Small Intestine Cancer?

Speaking on the disease, Dr. Sudeep Khanna, Senior Consultant, Gastroenterologist, Apollo Indraprastha Hospital speaks to Onlymyhealth. He says, “Several tumours can arise within the small bowel, both cancerous (adenocarcinomas, neuroendocrine tumours, lymphomas and sarcomas) and non-cancerous in the form of adenomas, leiomyomas, and lipomas). Patients with small bowel cancers have more secondary cancers involving the colon, rectum, ampulla of Vater, uterus and ovary.”

A rare disease, small intestine cancer leads to cells in small intestines to get malignant and divide quickly. When the forms of malignant cells start growing quickly, they develop into tumours that affect the entire digestive processes. The small intestine is a vital organ of our body that plays a major role in our digestive system, which includes our stomach, oesophagus, and large intestine. As we must have read in our Science classes, the small bowel helps to absorb the necessary nutrients and fat components in our food and supplies them through blood to every cell, tissue and organ of our body.

The longest tube in our body, the length of the small intestine can vary from as short as 3 metres to as long as 10.49 metres depending on the unit of measurement. The organ further splits into three major sections:

  • Duodenum, chiefly, the first part of the small intestine connecting to the stomach
  • Jejunum, or the middle portion of the small intestine
  • Ileum, or the final portion of the small intestine that connects to the colon

Cancerous tumours in any part of the small intestine negatively impacts the process of digestion with respect to absorption of nutrients in our body and blocking the flow of blood to transfer essential compounds.


Types of Small Intestine Cancers:

Small intestine cancers can be divided into five major types:

  • Adenocarcinomas: Adenocarcinoma stages typically start at the lining of the small intestine. Initially, the condition develops like a small, noncancerous growth in the form of polyp, turning over time into cancer.
  • Carcinoid tumours: Carcinoid tumours in the form of slow-growing cancers start to develop in the lower section of the organ. They can further affect our appendix or rectum. The tumours secrete large amounts of body chemicals in the form of serotonin.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs): A rare form of small intestinal cancer, more than 50% of them start to develop in the stomach.
  • Intestinal lymphomas: A lymphoma is a form of cancer that begins in the lymph nodes. People suffering from a disease often face immunodeficiency disorder. The condition ruptures the body’s immune system and affects its ability to fight back diseases.

Small Intestinal Cancer – A Mystery?

There is no specific cause to the development of small intestinal cancer and doctors are not really sure to the possibility of its development. But, a wide range of factors have been identified to increase the chances of us developing the symptoms:

  • Age factors - How old you are (average age at the time of diagnosis is 60)
  • Gender – There is a slightly higher risk of development in men
  • Genetics – Certain disorders developed at the time of birth increase the odds
  • Poor and high cholesterol diet
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Residing or working near the storehouse of certain chemicals like phenoxyacetic acid
  • Other specific conditions affecting gut, such as Crohn’s disease, colon cancer, or celiac disease
  • Condition of lymphedema, or damage to vessels connecting lymph nodes

Also Read: You Should Never Ignore These Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

Small Intestine Cancer – Symptoms

Small intestinal cancer, in its preliminary stages is associated with abdominal pain and discomfort. The condition doesn’t allow for food to pass down smoothly through the digestive tract. The cancer is associated with the following symptoms:

  • Nausea resulting in stomach discomfort and sensations of vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating filling the abdominal tract with air or gas causing it to rise up and get swollen
  • Abdominal cramps along with uncontrolled vomiting and small bowel movements
  • Appetite loss resulting from abdominal pain that can make you feel fatigued or less interested in eating
  • Fatigue or feeling overly tired due to lack of energy
  • Asthenia or weakness emanating from fatigue or tiredness in which a person is unable to move a certain part of the body properly
  • Vitamin deficiency such as Iodine, vitamin D, calcium, iron, vitamin B-12 resulting in slow growth and irregular functions in the body
  • Anaemia when the healthy red blood cells in the body reduce resulting in lack of oxygen in the blood
  • Diarrhoea leading to unstable bowel movement
  • Jaundice followed by yellowing of skin and eyes

Small Intestine Cancer: Is There a Possible Diagnosis?

A proper and clear diagnosis of small bowel cancer requires a thorough and in-depth evaluation of a patient’s medical history and symptoms. The process would help examine the risk of small intestine cancer due to heredity. Diagnosis also includes a set of tests and procedures to determine the condition and the stage of development.

Common set of procedures to detect a small intestine cancer are inclusive of:

  • Blood tests
  • X-ray imaging
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Liver tests
  • Barium swallow

Small Intestine Cancer: Treatment


Treatment of the disease depends on the type and diagnosis of small intestinal cancer to make an analysis of how far has the condition spread. Surgery is recognised to be the most common form of treatment. The surgeon may remove the part consisting the cancerous growth. Alternatively, bypass surgery can be performed to allow the passage of food around the area where tumour is present.

Even if all of the cancerous cells are removed by surgery, doctors may suggest radiation therapy. The procedure involves high-energy X-rays to kill or eliminate cancerous cells. Chemotherapy may be offered by consuming drugs orally or with the help of an IV tube. The process can kill cancer cells and stop them from multiplying. However, a set of treatments are being offered and clinical trials being conducted in patients to diagnose and treat the disease at an early stage.

Small Intestine Cancer – Prevention

Speaking on the list of measures to be followed for prevention, Dr. Khanna further adds, “At this time, there is no known way to prevent most small intestine adenocarcinomas. There are some factors that might increase the risk for these cancers, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating a diet high in red meats. So, making healthier choices concerning these risk factors might lower your risk.”

Also Read: Is Targeted Therapy Better Than Chemotherapy? Some Facts About Targeted Therapy


Small intestine cancer is a deadly and rare disease that causes cells in small intestine to become malignant and multiply at a faster pace. If not diagnosed at an early stage, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body and endanger life. The process of cure and treatment depends largely on the kind of cancer you develop, its removal and the stage at which it has grown.

Cancer is like a slow poison that impacts every cell of the body and can have immense physiological and psychological trauma for a patient. As rightly said, “prevention is better than cure,” it is always recommended to consume healthy food inclusive of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds along with daily exercises to channelize the flow of energy and churn out waste materials as undigested scrap.

(Written by Shivani Priyam, Sub Editor, Onlymyhealth)

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