Small Intestine Cancer

What is Small Intestine Cancer?

Small intestine cancer is an uncommon disease where the cells of the small intestine become malignant, or grow out of control. “Small intestine cancer” is an umbrella term for different kinds of cancer, including intestinal lymphoma, adenocarcinoma, sarcoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and carcinoid tumors.

Intestinal lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the lymph nodes, or tissues that aid the immune system. Middle-aged males, those with HIV, and those with Celiac disease are at a higher risk for developing intestinal lymphoma.

Adenocarcinoma of the small bowel is a kind of cancer that affects glands that secrete digestive enzymes. Those with familial adenomatous polyposis, Crohn’s disease, or Lynch syndrome are at a higher risk for developing adenocarcinomas.

Sarcomas can develop in soft tissues all over the body. If a sarcoma develops in the small intestine, it is often a variant known as a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). These tumors begin to develop in interstitial cells of Caja (ICC), or cells in the nervous system that regulate bodily processes—such as transporting digested food through the GI tract. Although the exact cause of a GIST tumor is unknown, researchers believe it is caused by a mutated gene called “c-kit.” The c-kit gene is in all of the body’s cells and creates a protein which helps cells divide.

Carcinoid tumors are often “well-differentiated,” meaning they do not grow or spread quickly like other cancer cells, and they look similar to normal tissues. Carcinoid tumors originate in neuroendocrine cells, which create hormones that control intestinal muscles and digestive fluids. A person is more likely to develop this kind of cancer if they have Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, Addison’s anemia, gastritis, or a family history of either carcinoid tumors, neurofibromatosis or multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1).

While small intestine cancer can be caused by lots of different illnesses or family predispositions, there are some lifestyle factors that can influence its likelihood as well. For instance smoking, alcohol abuse, a diet high in fat or in red meats, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity can all contribute to the development of this cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Small Intestine Cancer?

Some cancers in the small intestine, like carcinoid tumors, may not present any symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do occur, a person may have flushed skin, see blood in their bowel movements, lose lots of weight, feel cramping or pain in their stomach, have constipation, have diarrhea, and have lumps on their abdomen.

Small Intestine Cancer Causes

There are a few different ways that small intestinal cancer can arise for a patient. In a majority of small intestine cancer cases, the exact cause of the cancer is unknown. What is known, however, is that colon cancer occurs when there is an error in the DNA development of a healthy cell in the colon. Other reasons for the development of colon cancer can stem from chronic inflammatory intestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. A perfectly healthy person can be diagnosed with small intestine cancer from inherited syndromes or genetics passed down from generation to generation. These types of inherited colon cancers are most commonly identified as Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). More specifically, HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome usually occurs in patients younger than the age of 50. FAP can cause the rarest form of colon cancer, and occurs when thousands of polyps are in the lining of your colon and rectum. Untreated, FAP will develop into cancer in patients before the age of 40. Although the causes of small intestinal cancer are vague at best, the are some methods of prevention that can save your life.

How is Small Intestine Cancer Treated?

Cancers in the small intestines can sometimes be hard to spot, so along with MRIs, PET, CT scans, and other similar tests, surgery in the abdomen may be necessary for a proper diagnosis. The type of treatment a patient will need depends on the type of cancer, its location, and how far it is has progressed. Chemotherapy, stem-cell transplants, and radiation therapy are all options for cancer. Immunotherapy can also bolster the body’s defense against cancer. For example, synthetic materials, like cancer vaccines and monoclonal antibody medications, can be created in a laboratory that mimic the body’s own immune responses.

Small Intestine Cancer Prevention

At this time, there is no way to prevent small intestinal cancer. One link to cancer is smoking, so not smoking can greatly decrease the risk of getting any cancer. If you suffer from FAP, it is recommended that the polyps are removed before cancer can develop. Overall, you want to live a healthy lifestyle with limited smoking, alcohol consumption, avoiding a low fiber, high fat diet, diabetes, and plenty of exercise. Even if the illness runs in your family, using the above prevention measures can get your body up to the task of fighting and beating this cancer.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 09, 2017