Treatment Choices for Small Intestine Adenocarcinoma, Based on Tumor Spread

How your small intestine cancer is treated depends mainly on whether or not the cancer can be removed completely with surgery. Cancers that can be removed completely are called resectable, while those that cannot are called unresectable.

Resectable cancers

Resectable cancers are treated with surgery to remove the cancer and some healthy surrounding tissue. If the cancer is in the first part of the small intestine, a Whipple procedure (or pancreaticoduodenectomy) is done. If the cancer is in another part of the small intestine, a resection is done.

If the cancer had grown through the wall of the intestine or spread to nearby lymph nodes, the doctor may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy to try to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind but were too small to see. The hope is that this treatment will help keep the cancer from coming back (recurrence). This works for colon cancer, but has not yet been shown to help patients with small intestine cancer live longer.

Unresectable cancers

A small intestine cancer may be unresectable if it has grown into nearby tissues or if it has spread to other organs and tissues. Sometimes patients with unresectable cancers still have surgery to treat blocked intestines. This can improve symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Otherwise, these patients are treated with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be used to treat cancer that has spread to the brain or bones (especially the spine). Because there is no generally accepted standard treatment for these advanced cancers, taking part in a clinical trial is also a good option.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: April 30, 2014 Last Revised: February 9, 2016

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