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Small intestine (bowel) cancer: Overview of symptoms, treatment and more

  • Posted on- Aug 01, 2015
  • 2208 Views

Small intestine, also known as small bowel, is a part of the digestive system responsible for breaking down food and nutrients to be absorbed into the body. It is the connection between the stomach and large intestine. Small bowel cancer is a rare form of cancer that develops in the small intestine. The cancer begins when cells in the lining of the small bowel change form and grows nonstop, forming a tumor. The tumor can be cancerous or noncancerous. There are five types of small bowel cancer:


Symptoms associated with small bowel cancer

People with small bowel cancer do not show any symptoms initially. The symptoms only appear when cancer has advanced to later stages:

If you notice any one of the above mentioned signs, consult with your oncologist.

Tests and diagnosis for small bowel cancer

In addition to a physical examination, your oncologist may use the following tests to detect small bowel cancer:
  • Blood tests: Your doctor will take a blood sample to test for liver disease, which can be caused by small bowel cancer. A test of the number of red blood cells in the blood can indicate whether the cancer is causing any bleeding.
  • Fecal occult blood test: This particular test identifies hidden blood in the stool, which may occur due to small bowel cancer. The test comprises of examination of stool in a laboratory.
  • X-ray: An x-ray depicts picture of the structures inside of the body using a small amount of radiation. This helps the doctor in finding a tumor. For small bowel cancer, x-rays may be taken of the entire gastrointestinal system.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure where a small amount of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope. Only biopsy can identify the exact presence of cancer and its type.
  • Endoscopy: An endoscopy enables the doctor to look inside the gastrointestinal system. In this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin, lighted, flexible tube called an endoscope through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach and small bowel.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A PET scan is a way to create pictures of organs and tissues inside the body with the help of a radioactive sugar substance which is injected into the patient’s body.

Available treatments for small bowel cancer

Treating small intestine cancer depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Listed below are few treatment options:
  • Surgery: It is the most common treatment for small bowel cancer which involves the removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue. Surgery may be used to remove the tumor and the affected part of the small intestine.
  • Radiation therapy: This therapy involves the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells. It is commonly used as the primary treatment for small bowel cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: It is drug-based therapy used to destroy cancer cells. The medications stop the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Chemotherapy may be given post surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Also called biologic therapy, it involves strengthening the body's immune system to fight the cancer. It uses materials to improve, target, or restore immune system function.