Small bowel cancer
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Clinical Oncologist Katherine Aitkens explains bowel cancer, giving an overview of bowel cancer symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
The small bowel or small intestine is part of the digestive system. Cancers in this area of the body are rare. Around 1,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with with small bowel cancer each year.
We have more information about other types of bowel cancer including:
Types of small bowel cancer
There are different types of small bowel cancer. This information is mainly about adenocarcinoma of the small bowel. This is because it is the most common type.
For more information on other types of small bowel cancer, contact our cancer information nurses on the Macmillan Support Line.
We do not know what causes most small bowel cancers. But there is research being done to try to find out more.
Some people with non-cancerous bowel conditions may have a higher risk of developing small bowel cancer. These conditions include:
- Crohn’s disease
- coeliac disease
- Peutz-Jegher’s syndrome.
People also have a higher risk if they have:
- Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
Like all cancers, small bowel cancer is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.
Small bowel cancer can be diagnosed in different ways. You may see your GP about symptoms such as pain, weight loss or tiredness caused by anaemia. They will examine you and arrange some blood tests or x-rays. Your GP can then refer you to a specialist at the hospital for more tests and treatment if necessary.
Other people are diagnosed with small bowel cancer after being admitted to hospital with more severe symptoms. These may include pain caused by a blockage or a tear in the bowel.
At the hospital, a specialist doctor will examine you and may arrange the following tests:
A sample of your stool (poo) is tested for blood.
An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube used to look inside the body. The tube has a light and a camera at the end. It is passed into the body to help doctors see inside. This test has different names depending on the area examined. An upper endoscopy uses a tube passed through the mouth. A colonoscopy uses a tube passed through the back passage (rectum).
An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. Before an MRI of the small bowel you may have a special drink that helps the bowel expand. You may also have an injection of dye or muscle relaxant into a vein. These will help make the picture clearer.
If it is difficult to diagnose small bowel cancer with the endoscopies and scans, you may have an operation to look inside the bowel.
Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. We have more information about waiting for test results that may help.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Your treatment plan may depend on:
- your general health
- the position and size of the cancer
- whether it has spread to other areas of the body
- your personal choices.
Your doctor will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions.
Your treatment may depend on the type of small bowel cancer you have. This information is mainly about the most common type, called adenocarcinoma. Other types, such as lymphoma may be treated differently.
Small bowel cancer treatments include:
You may also have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.
After your treatment has finished, you will have regular check-ups, tests and scans. These appointments are a good opportunity to talk to your doctor about any worries or problems you have.
We have more information about follow-up care after treatment.
You may get anxious between appointments. This is natural. It may help to get support from family, friends or a support organisation.
Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:
Well-being and recovery
Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.
Making small changes such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and wellbeing and help your body recover.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our small bowel cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at email@example.com
Overman M et al. Epidemiology, clinical features, and types of small bowel neoplasms. www.uptodate.com/contents/epidemiology-clinical-features-and-types-of-small-bowel-neoplasms (accessed February 2019).
Cusack J et al. Treatment of small bowel neoplasms. www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-small-bowel-neoplasms (accessed February 2019).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.
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