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What’s New in Small Intestine Cancer (Adenocarcinoma) Research?

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(Note: This information is about small intestine cancers called adenocarcinomas. To learn about other types of cancer that can start in the small intestine, see Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors, Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors, or Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.)

Important research on small intestine cancers is going on in many university hospitals, medical centers, and other institutions around the world. Scientists are learning more about what causes the disease and how best to treat it.

Small intestine cancer is studied less often than some of the other gastrointestinal (GI) cancers because it is much less common. Still, some studies are looking at better ways to treat this disease.

Most small intestine cancers look very similar to colon cancers under a microscope, but detailed studies of the chromosomes and DNA in their cancer cells have found some differences. Researchers hope that these findings will eventually lead to more specific and effective treatments for small intestine cancer.

In the meantime, some studies are looking for better ways to treat this cancer with chemotherapy. For example, a few small studies have explored the use of intraperitoneal chemotherapy, in which chemo is put directly into the abdomen right after surgery, to treat small intestine cancer that has spread throughout the abdomen.

Researchers are also studying whether giving treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy either before surgery (neoadjuvant treatment) or after surgery (adjuvant treatment) can help improve outcomes.

Other studies are looking to see if targeted therapy drugs could be helpful. Unlike chemotherapy, these drugs attack specific parts of cancer cells (or nearby cells) that make them different from normal cells. Several types of targeted drugs are now being studied. One example is bevacizumab (Avastin), a drug that targets the new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. Some early research has found it might be helpful when added to chemotherapy.

A promising newer area of cancer treatment is immunotherapy, which helps a person’s own immune system attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors have been found to be helpful in treating many types of cancer, and some of them are now being studied for use against small intestine cancer. These drugs might be especially useful in people whose cancers have changes in certain genes (called mismatch repair, or MMR genes).

Some studies of colon cancer other GI cancers may also prove useful for small intestine cancer. These studies involve early detection, drug treatment, surgical methods, and understanding the cause of these cancers.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Revised: February 8, 2018

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