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Intestinal Cancer: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Intestinal Cancer develops when cancer cells begin to form in the small bowel (small intestine). Intestinal cancer is different than colorectal cancer that develops in the large bowel, large colon, or large intestine. The small intestine is divided into three sections, including the ilium, jejunum, and duodenum. Nearly every form of small intestine cancer affects the duodenum.

Intestinal cancer is extremely rare in its malignant form. Health history and diet can affect the risk of developing life-threatening intestinal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,000 individuals are diagnosed in America every year with small intestine cancer.

The forms of cancer developing in the small intestine involved adenocarcinoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumor, sarcoma, carcinoid tumors, and lymphoma. Adenocarcinoma typically begins in glandular cells in the small intestine lining. The development of tumors tends to occur near the stomach in the small intestine and may block and grow in the intestine over time. Leiomyosarcoma develops in the small intestine’s smooth muscle cells, usually near the large intestine.

Health Factors and Lifestyle Choices That Cause Cancer

The decisions you make in lifestyle choices and health history can be significant risk factors in the development of intestinal cancer. You may have a heightened risk of development for serious condition by:

  • Consuming a high-fat diet
  • Developing Crohn’s disease
  • Acquiring familial adenomatous polyposis
  • Acquiring celiac disease

Recently, there have been some prescription and over-the counter drugs that have been contaminated with NDMA, a carcinogen. For more information view our Zantac cancer and Valsartan cancer pages.

Small Intestinal Cancer Signs and Symptoms

There are significant signs and symptoms associated with small intestinal cancer and other conditions that mimic other diseases. It is essential to see your doctor if you experience any of the following, including:

  • Bloody stool
  • An abdominal lump
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Cramping or pain in the middle of the abdomen

Diagnosing Intestinal Cancer

The doctor has various tools to make an accurate diagnosis of intestinal cancer or to rule out the condition. Before treatment can begin, the doctor must perform tests and procedures to identify, diagnose, and stage the level of intestinal cancer that can typically be completed at the same time. Some of these tests and procedures might involve:

  • Comprehensive Physical Examination and Patient History – An examination of the body can identify the patient’s overall condition of health. The doctor will look for any signs of the disease including lumps and tumors. The patient will provide a comprehensive history of their health habits, family ailments, past illnesses, and previous treatments.
  • Comprehensive Blood Chemistry Studies – A quick way to identify serious ongoing conditions is to check a blood sample and measure specific substances released by organs and tissues into the bloodstream. Any high, low, or unusual levels of substance in the bloodstream can be a significant indicator of disease.
  • Liver Function Tests – The liver will dump specific substances into the bloodstream that can help identify intestinal cancer in various stages.
  • Endoscopy Procedures – The doctor can peer into the tissues and organs inside the patient’s body to detect obvious abnormal areas by endoscopic procedures. These procedures could include:
    • Upper Endoscopy – The doctor can peer into the internal stomach, duodenum, and esophagus using an endoscope inserted into the patient’s mouth, down the esophagus, through the stomach, and into the small intestine’s duodenum. Some endoscopic tools can remove critical tissue samples that can help identify cancerous formations seen under a microscope.
    • Capsule Endoscopy – The doctor can peer into the small intestine using a small capsule no bigger than a large pill. The capsule contains a tiny wireless camera and lighting system swallowed by their patients. The traveling capsule can capture images of the digestive tract from the esophagus to the large intestine and send its photographs to a recorder outside the body that is worn around the patient’s waist. The capsule is ultimately excreted from the body in a bowel movement.
    • Double Balloon Endoscopy – a small tube instrument can be inserted into the rectum or the mouth to reach the small intestine and view parts of the digestive tract. The doctor can extract a biopsy to be examined under a microscope to identify any indicators of cancer.
  • Biopsy – The removal of tissue or cells taken from the body that can be reviewed by the doctor under a microscope to identify signs of cancer. The biopsy is typically obtained through laparotomy or endoscopy procedures.
  • Laparotomy – The surgery requires an incision in the abdominal wall to identify any sign of disease. The doctor can typically remove tissue samples, lymph nodes, or other cells to check for signs of disease using a microscope.
  • CT Scan – This noninvasive procedure (CAT scan, computerized axial tomography, or computerized tomography) captures detailed images of the body from various angles delivered to a computer. The doctor may inject the dye into the patient’s vein or have the individual swallow the dye to provide better imaging of tissue and organs.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – This radio wave computerized procedure captures detailed images of the inside of the body.

Intestinal Cancer Treatment Options

The doctor will typically recommend one of three different treatments or a combination of treatment options that involve surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. However, there are clinical trials that have proven effective at treating or managing advanced stage intestinal cancer including biologic therapy and radiation therapy using radiosensitizers. Many patients are offered participation in a clinical trial at various stages of their disease including before, during, or after the start of their cancer treatment.

Generally, the treatment for intestinal cancer will lead to mild or serious side effects. In detail, these options include:

  • Surgical Procedures – The doctor may recommend surgery to correct small intestinal cancer using resection where all or part of the organ is removed to eliminate cancer. Usually, the doctor will also remove the nearby lymph nodes to minimize recurrence. A bypass surgical procedure may also be effective if a tumor is blocking the small intestine in a position that makes it impossible to be removed.
    If the doctor is successful in removing all the cancerous areas during the surgical procedure, the patient may need to undergo radiation therapy to ensure that all remaining cancer cells are killed off. This type of treatment after the surgical procedure can significantly lower the risk of cancer recurrence through adjuvant therapy.
  • Radiation Therapy – The doctor may recommend radiation therapy that utilizes high-energy x-ray technology or another form of radiation to ensure the cancer cells are killed to keep them from reoccurring. This procedure might involve external radiation therapy where outside machines bombard the cancerous cells or internal radiation therapy involving catheters, wires, seeds, or needles placed directly into the cancerous area.
  • Chemotherapy – This effective procedure uses medication to stop the cancerous cell growth by causing the instant death of the cells or to stop them from dividing. Usually, the chemotherapy medication is injected into the muscle or vein or swallowed orally to enter the bloodstream. This form of treatment is often recommended only at certain stages of cancer.
  • Biologic Therapy – This form of treatment uses a different approach altogether by enhancing the body’s immune system to fight off cancer. This form of therapy is typically referred to as immunotherapy or biotherapy.

Much more information is available through the National Cancer Institute concerning diagnosis, symptoms, causes, and treatment of intestinal cancer.

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