The Dirty Dozen

Intestinal Cancer


The small intestine or small bowel is the part of the gastrointestinal tract between the stomach and the large intestine, and is where most of the end absorption of food takes place.

Tumors in the small intestine may block the flow of food and affect digestion. As the tumor gets bigger, the blockages may cause pain in the abdomen. A slowly bleeding tumor may lead to anemia. Digested blood may cause the stool to become black or tarry. An obstruction—when the flow of food is completely blocked—may cause intense pain, nausea and vomiting and typically requires immediate surgery.

Screening Info

If there is a reason to suspect you have a small intestinal cancer, the doctor will use one or more methods to find out if the disease is really present.

Medical history and physical exam

When a doctor takes your medical history, you will be asked questions about your symptoms and risk factors. The doctor will specifically ask about symptoms that could be caused by a mass in the intestines and examine you, concentrating on your abdomen looking for any swelling or sounds of the bowel trying to overcome a blockage.

Blood tests

If your doctor suspects an intestine cancer, he or she will likely order some blood tests, such as:

  • A complete blood count (CBC), which measures red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Small intestine cancer often causes a low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Blood chemistry tests to look for signs that a cancer has spread to the liver

Other methods of screening include:

  • Imaging tests
  • Computed tomography (CT) Scan
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy


  • Age 67+
  • More Common in Men
  • Other Gastrointestinal Diseases
  • Damage to the Lymph Vessels (Lymphedema)
  • Tobacco or Alcohol Use
  • High Fat Diet
  • Chemical Exposure
  • Inherited Genetic Conditions (Such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis)


  • Abdominal Pain
  • Unexplained Weight Loss
  • Weakness or Fatigue
  • Bloody or Tarry Stools
  • A Noticeable Lump in the Abdomen


At this time, there is no known way to prevent most cases of small intestine adenocarcinoma. Since smoking may increase the risk of this cancer, not starting or quitting smoking may reduce the risk for this disease. People with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) can have a very high risk of duodenal cancer. Doctors may suggest that these patients have surgery to remove the duodenum before cancer can develop. The procedure most often used is called a pancreaticoduodenectomy, a major operation that removes the duodenum, part of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the common bile duct, and part of the stomach. This surgery is most often done in patients with FAP who have many polyps in the duodenum and so are at a high risk of getting duodenal cancer.