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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.)
At this time, there is no known way to prevent most small intestine adenocarcinomas. There are some factors that might increase the risk for these cancers, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating a diet that’s high in red meats, so making healthier choices concerning these risk factors might lower your risk. Small intestine cancers are rare to begin with, but making these types of healthy choices might also lower your risk of some other types of cancer.
For some people at high risk of small intestine cancer because of certain inherited syndromes, surgery might be an option to lower risk. For example, people with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) can have a very high risk of small intestine cancer starting in the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). If a person has many duodenal polyps (growths), doctors may suggest surgery to remove the duodenum before cancer can develop.
The procedure most often used is called a pancreaticoduodenectomy (or Whipple procedure). This is a complex operation that removes the duodenum, part of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the common bile duct, and part of the stomach. It can have major side effects, so it’s important to understand the possible pros and cons before having this type of surgery. This procedure is discussed in more detail in Surgery for Small Intestine Cancer (Adenocarcinoma).
Research is also looking at whether medicines might help lower the risk of small intestine cancer in people with many polyps. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, are one type of medicine being studied.
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 journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Chamberlain RS, Krishnaraj M, Shah SA. Chapter 54: Cancer of the Small Bowel. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.
Doyon L, Greenstein A, Greenstein A. Chapter 76: Cancer of the Small Bowel. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2014.
Overman MJ, Kunitake H. Epidemiology, clinical features, and types of small bowel neoplasms. UpToDate. Accessed at www.uptodate.com/contents/epidemiology-clinical-features-and-types-of-small-bowel-neoplasms on January 4, 2018.
Skipworth JRA, Morkane C, Raptis DA, et al. Pancreaticoduodenectomy for advanced duodenal and ampullary adenomatosis in familial adenomatous polyposis. HPB (Oxford). 2011;13(5):342-349.
Last Revised: February 8, 2018
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