Small intestine cancer occurs when cells grow out of control in part of the digestive system. The disease and its symptoms can significantly affect your health and quality of life. If you’re facing this diagnosis, you need a team of experts who offer comprehensive treatment options and supportive care.
Diagnosing Small Intestine Cancer
The small intestine, or small bowel, is where food goes to be digested after it leaves the stomach. It’s where your body absorbs many nutrients. Cancer can occur in any of the three parts of the small intestine: the duodenum, the jejunum or the ileum.
The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine, immediately after the stomach. It receives partially digested contents from the stomach and starts to absorb nutrients. The jejunum is the next section and absorbs sugars, amino acids and fatty acids. The ileum is the final section. It absorbs vitamin B12 and salts, then moves contents to the large intestine.
If your doctor suspects you have cancer in the digestive tract, you may need some of the following tests:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can measure your complete blood count (CBC), which may indicate bleeding in the intestine. In addition, blood chemistry tests can identify substances that indicate problems with nearby organs, such as the liver.
- Imaging tests: We may order a CT or MRI scan to get pictures of your digestive system. A specialized test called enteroclysis can help us get even more detailed images.
- Endoscopy: During an endoscopic procedure, a doctor inserts a thin tube with a tiny light and video camera. This instrument helps them see the structures and lining of the gastrointestinal tract. We offer different types of endoscopy. The technique your doctor uses depends on which part of the small intestine they need to examine.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is the only way to confirm that a tumor in the small bowel is duodenal or small intestine cancer. During an endoscopy, the doctor takes a small tissue sample. Then a specialist called a pathologist looks at the cells under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
There are several types of small intestine cancer, depending on the cells involved. This information is essential for treatment planning and understanding your prognosis. We’ll identify whether the cancer is adenocarcinoma, carcinoid, lymphoma or sarcoma. Then we’ll explain what that means for you and use the information to make individualized treatment recommendations.
Duodenal and Small Intestine Cancer Treatment
Your care team may include several specialists who work together to design a treatment plan. Specialists may include a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist, gastroenterologist and more.
Based on your test results, research-based practices, and your preferences and goals, we may recommend surgery. Surgery can remove part or all of the tumor and nearby affected tissues. Removing the tumor may slow cancer growth or cure the disease.
Your doctor may perform palliative surgery if the cancer has spread so much that it can’t be removed completely. This surgery can prevent a blocked intestine and relieve symptoms.
Specific surgical approaches include:
- Segmental resection to remove the affected portion of the small intestine
- Bypass surgery to reroute the path of food around the tumor, which can alleviate symptoms and improve your ability to consume nutrients
- Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) to remove the gallbladder, bile duct, part of the pancreas and part of the small intestine
- Stent or tube placement to insert a small device that helps open the digestive tract
We also may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is a medication that is injected or swallowed to destroy cancer cells, and we offer several types. External-beam radiation therapy is often effective against small intestine cancer. A specialized machine aims high-energy beams directly at the tumor.
Supportive Care for Small Intestine Cancer
Throughout your cancer journey, we provide exceptional supportive care. This may include:
- Dietitians to help you maximize your nutrition
- Pain management experts to keep you comfortable
- Palliative care specialists to help you manage symptoms and make treatment decisions
- Psychologists to help you cope with diagnosis and treatment
Small Intestine Cancer Care: Why Choose Memorial Cancer Institute?
When you come to Memorial for diagnosis and treatment of small intestine cancer, you’ll find:
- Expert care: Our oncologists and surgeons are board certified and fellowship trained in gastrointestinal cancers. This means they have the highest level of knowledge and training and stay up to date on the latest research.
- Integrated team: As an integrated cancer treatment program, oncologists and surgeons work together throughout the diagnosis and treatment process. This is particularly important if cancer spreads to surrounding organs and systems.
- Surgical expertise: Surgery in the digestive system is complex and requires highly skilled surgeons with extensive experience. Our surgeons are specially trained in these complicated procedures and perform many each year.
- High-volume center: Memorial treats many cases of gastrointestinal cancer every year. Research shows that high-volume centers achieve the best outcomes.
- Center of Excellence: Memorial is one of only a few institutions designated as a Florida Cancer Center of Excellence by the Department of Health.
- Care for the whole person: Your care team includes support staff who can help you feel and function better. At Memorial, you have access to integrative medicine specialists, including psychologists, social workers and nutritionists.