Surgery involves removing all or part of the cancer with an operation. It is the main treatment for small bowel cancer.

About surgery for small bowel cancer

Surgery is the main treatment for small bowel cancer. Your doctors will explain the aim of the operation to you before your surgery. They can answer any questions you have.

Removing the cancer

You may have surgery to remove the part of the small bowel that has cancer. The two open ends of the bowel are then joined together. The join is known as an anastomosis. Surgery is also used if the bowel becomes blocked.

The type of operation you have depends on:

  • the size and position of the cancer
  • whether it has spread to any surrounding areas.

During the operation, the surgeon will usually remove all the cancer and some surrounding healthy tissue. But if the cancer is affecting tissue or organs nearby, the surgeon may also need to remove part of the stomach, part of the colon, the gall bladder or some lymph nodes.

Stomas

Sometimes during the operation, the surgeon makes an opening through the tummy (abdominal) wall. This lets the bowel join on to the surface of the tummy. It is called a stoma. A stoma made using the small bowel is called an ileostomy.

The surgeon may make a stoma if the bowel cannot be joined together, or to give the bowel time to heal. They will be able to tell you before surgery, if you are likely to need a stoma.

The stoma is usually temporary. People with a temporary stoma will have a second, smaller operation a few months later to close the stoma and re-join the bowel. This operation is called a stoma reversal.

The stoma care nurse at the hospital will help you look after the stoma for the first few days. They can give you support and information on caring for your stoma when you go home. Our cancer support specialists can give you more information about having an ileostomy.

Bypass surgery

If the cancer is large and has caused a narrowing or blockage in the small bowel, it may cause tummy pain and vomiting. This needs to be treated urgently.

Surgeons can sometimes bypass the cancer using an expandable metal tube to open the small bowel. The cancer can sometimes be removed at a later date. But even if it is not possible to completely remove the cancer, bypassing the blocked area can help relieve the symptoms.

After your operation

After a major operation, you may have to stay in an intensive-care ward for a couple of days. Then you can move back to a general ward.

When part of the small bowel has been removed or bypassed, you may need to have a special diet, supplements or medicines. This will depend on the type of surgery. This may help you digest and absorb food. Your doctor or nurse will explain this to you.

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