Small intestine cancer, also called small bowel cancer, is the rarest type of GI cancer. The UCLA Gastrointestinal Oncology Program includes a group of experts in all types of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, including small intestine cancer.
With precise diagnosis and leading-edge treatment, we can offer the best outcome to people with one of these uncommon tumors. Our doctors study innovative treatments through advanced clinical trials. We also deliver therapies such as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC) for metastatic small bowel cancer (cancer that has spread) in the abdomen.
The small intestine is the largest part of the GI tract, the tube that processes food into waste. Cancer can develop anywhere in the GI tract, from the esophagus (swallowing tube) through the rectum, which stores waste before you eliminate it.
There are four types of small intestine cancers:
Doctors aren’t yet sure what causes most cases of small intestine cancer. People may have higher risk if they have:
The first symptoms of small intestine cancer are usually vague. The most common symptom is pain, sometimes with nausea or vomiting. Symptoms are usually worse after eating. Other symptoms include:
Because small intestine cancer is uncommon, it requires expertise for a precise diagnosis. Doctors will ask about your symptoms and study several tests to diagnose a tumor. Your diagnostic tests may include:
Small intestine cancer treatment usually involves surgery. After surgeons remove the tumor, you may need follow-up care including radiation or chemotherapy. Your treatment options may include:
In some cases, surgeons can remove the tumor cells and a small margin of cells around the tumor. Your surgeon may need to remove a section of the small intestine to eliminate the cancer. After removing the tumor, your doctor will reconnect the remaining sections of the intestine (anastomosis).
Some tumors cannot be removed surgically. Over time, they may block the intestine. Your surgeon may create a bypass that allows food to go around the tumor in the small intestine.
After surgery, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy, which uses powerful X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Advanced forms of radiation therapy shape radiation beams to the tumor to reduce damage to delicate intestinal tissues. Read more about radiation oncology.
UCLA is one of only a few centers in the region to provide intraperitoneal chemoperfusion. Your surgeon may recommend HIPEC if cancer cells have metastasized to the abdominal cavity. This specialized treatment bathes the abdominal cavity in a chemotherapy solution immediately after surgery to destroy as many cancer cells as possible. Learn more about HIPEC.
Through clinical trials, UCLA doctors offer several new small bowel cancer therapies that aren’t widely available. Researchers are studying biologic treatments, or immunotherapies, that use the body’s immune system to fight small intestine cancer. Some doctors also work with radiosensitizers, drugs that make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. See our clinical trials.
Targeted therapy blocks gene changes in gastrointestinal stromal tumors to prevent cancer from growing. These drugs are often the first treatment for GISTs, and they may work for GISTs when chemotherapy does not. You may have targeted therapy before or after surgery, or to improve your quality of life when surgery can’t remove a tumor completely.
To schedule an appointment with the UCLA Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, please call the UCLA Cancer Hotline at 888-ONC-UCLA (888-662-8252) Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, or our Physician Referral Service at 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (310-825-2631).