Small Intestine Cancer

Small intestine cancer is a rare disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the small intestine. The types of cancer found in the small intestine are adenocarcinoma, sarcoma, carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumor, and lymphoma. Diet and health history can affect the risk of developing small intestine cancer. Possible signs of small intestine cancer include abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the type of small intestine cancer, whether the cancer has spread to other places in the body, whether the cancer can be completely removed by surgery and whether the cancer is newly diagnosed or has recurred.

Patients with small intestine cancer are treated at our Gastrointestinal Cancer Unit. You can also review the tabs at top of this page for information on small intestine cancer causes, risk and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.


The cause of most small intestine cancers in unknown, but there is speculation that because food moves so quickly through the small bowel, cancer inducing agents have little time to linger and cause problems.  Most experts believe that small intestine cancer arises from small benign growths called polyps, which can become malignant over time.

Risk factors

Risk factors for small intestine cancer include Crohn’s disease, celiac sprue disease (gluten intolerance), Peutz-Jegher’s syndrome, and intestinal polyposis. An additional risk factor may be a high-fat diet.


Symptoms of small intestine cancer include pain or cramps in the middle of the abdomen, weight loss with no known reason, a lump in the abdomen, and blood in the stool.

In addition to obtaining your complete medical history and conducting a physical exam, your doctor may ask for a stool sample to test for blood, perform blood chemistry tests, and order work-ups such as a barium X-ray or CT scan.

UC San Diego Health is the only site in San Diego that offers Double Balloon Enteroscopy, an endoscopic procedure in which a thin, lighted tube is inserted through the mouth and stomach, down to the small intestine.  The procedure is the first endoscopic technique that allows visualization of the entire small bowel as well as the ability to take a biopsy (removal of small amount of tissue for testing) and/or the application of therapy directly to the area.


Staging – the determination of how far the cancer has spread – is determined at diagnosis.

  • Stage I: Cancer is contained within the small bowel lining or spread into the muscle wall
  • Stage II: Cancer has spread through the muscle wall and possibly to nearby organs
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body

Generally, though, small intestine tumors are grouped according to whether or not the tumor can be removed by surgery.


Surgery, which is the primary treatment option for small intestine cancer, may include resection (removal) of a portion of the small intestine, with the surgeon reconnecting the cut ends.  Or, the surgeon may elect to rearrange the small intestine to bypass the cancerous area, when the tumor cannot be removed.

Double Balloon Enteroscopy

In some cases, a Double Balloon Enteroscopy may be performed to apply therapy directly to the cancerous area of the small intestine. In this procedure, a thin, lighted tube is inserted through the mouth and stomach, down to the small intestine.


Chemotherapy (drugs) may be given alone or in combination with radiation therapy and/or surgery.