Small Intestine Cancer

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Small intestine cancers are rare. About 10,000 people will get this type of cancer in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

At City of Hope, our approach to treating small intestine cancer starts with personalized care — not just for your cancer, but the kind that makes you feel supported throughout your treatment. Our world-class team combines a multidisciplinary team approach with the newest, leading-edge genetic screening to provide you with the most accurate diagnosis and treatment path.

Comprehensive care

City of Hope is one of only a few cancer centers in the country that provides comprehensive care. That means you have a team that is working together at all stages of your treatment to combine innovative, genetically targeted therapies with leading-edge surgical techniques — all with the goal of making you whole again.

Getting treated for small intestine cancer at City of Hope gives you access to exceptional, coordinated care and makes you the focus of a team of world class doctors and scientists. Being a leading cancer center means we see these cases more often — so we have deep experience with finding the newest and most individualized treatments.

Our small intestine cancer program highlights include

  • State-of-the-art screenings and diagnostic tools including endoscopy, CT scans and genetic testing
  • Minimally invasive, robotically assisted surgery for fewer complications and faster recovery
  • Surgical specialists dedicated to preserving quality of life
  • Ultraprecise radiation therapy to target tumors and preserve healthy tissue
  • Targeted drugs and drug combinations for greater effectiveness and fewer side effects
  • Pioneering drug research and clinical trials

Nationally recognized cancer center

City of Hope, located in Southern California, is a recognized leader in small intestine cancer research and treatment. We are designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute, and for over a decade, U.S. News & World Report has named City of Hope one of the top cancer hospitals in America.


Small intestine cancers are rare. About 10,000 people will get this type of cancer in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

How small intestine cancer develops

Getting small intestine cancer means abnormal cells in that section of your gastrointestinal tract are growing and dividing at a rapid pace — so fast that cells in your immune system that fight disease cannot keep up. There are five types of small intestine cancer that differ depending on the type of cell affected including:

  • Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of small intestine cancer; it starts in the cells that make the mucus lining on the inside of the small intestine and most often develops at the junction of the small intestine and the stomach.
  • Leiomyosarcomas are rare cancers that start in smooth muscle cells in the wall of the small intestine, most often appearing near the large intestine.
  • Carcinoid tumors start in hormone-making cells in the intestine.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) start in special cells found in the wall of the GI tract, called the interstitial cells of Cajal.
  • Lymphomas are a type of cancer that typically start in immune system cells, but can also start in intestinal organs.

What increases your risk of small intestine cancer?

Things that put you at higher risk for getting small intestine cancer are called risk factors. Your risk of getting small intestine cancer depends on a complex interaction between lifestyle factors and your inherited risks — in other words, the ones you’re born with.

Risk factors for small intestine cancer include:

  • Age: Advancing age increases risk for small intestine cancer.
  • Sex: This type of cancer is more often diagnosed in men.
  • Race: Being African-American increases risk.
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol excessively, increase risk.
  • Having had colon cancer increases risk of developing small intestine cancer.
  • Having a history of Crohn’s disease.
  • Having a history of Celiac disease.

Inherited risks for small intestine cancer include familial adenomatous polyposis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, MUTYH-associated polyposis, hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer and cystic fibrosis.

If your family history suggests an increased risk of this type of cancer, City of Hope’s Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics offers genetic counseling and screening that can identify whether inherited conditions influence your risk — and guide you to the best treatments.

Small intestine cancer symptoms

The first symptoms related to small intestine cancer tends to be abdominal pain, which can worsen as the tumor grows larger. Typical small intestine cancer symptoms include:

  • pain in the abdomen (belly)
  • dark or bright red blood in the stool                    
  • unintended weight loss
  • an abdominal lump

These symptoms could also be a result of other conditions. Still, if you have any of these problems for more than two weeks, it’s important to see your doctor right away to pinpoint and treat the cause.

City of Hope’s team of internationally trained specialists use their clinical expertise and leading-edge technology to provide you with the most accurate diagnosis — and the most effective treatment.

Diagnosing small intestine cancer

At City of Hope, we offer several screening methods for small intestine cancer including:

  • Blood chemistry studies may be ordered to check whether you are anemic. Anemia may be a result of bleeding, liver problems or poor nutrition related to cancer.
  • Endoscopic biopsy involves removing tissue or cells to be viewed later under a microscope by a pathologist, and usually is done during an endoscopy.    
  • Upper endoscopy, uses a thin tube with a camera at the end to visualize the duodenum to check for abnormal areas. This procedure may be performed with an ultrasound to determine whether the disease has spread.                                          
  • A CT scan takes a series of pictures inside the body from different angles to determine if cancer has spread.
  • A PET/CT scan is a procedure in which a positron emission tomography scan and computed tomography scan are done at the same time. It involves injecting radioactive glucose and seeing where in the body it is used most, since malignant tumors need more glucose than normal cells.

Treatments for small intestine cancer

Small intestine cancer is quite rare, making it even more important to find a team that has seen this type of cancer — and is acquainted with the best and most individualized treatments.

At City of Hope the center of our approach to your cancer is precision medicine. That means every aspect of your care is tailored to the behavior of your specific cancer. And it means we apply precise and minimally invasive surgical techniques — and test individual cancer cells to find drug combinations that would work best for your specific case.


Surgery is a common treatment for small intestine cancer and, in advanced cases, your care team will discuss a plan that may involve a combination of treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Chemotherapy or radiation may be given before surgery to shrink the tumor; and after surgery to try and wipe out any remaining cancer cells.

  • Exciting advances in chemotherapy are allowing patients with advanced disease to get combinations of drugs to shrink tumors, making it easier to take them out later with surgery — or melt them away and avoid surgery altogether.
  • If you have failed all standard chemotherapy, we have several experimental approaches — including immunotherapy and targeted therapy — designed to target your specific tumor and extend your life.
  • We use the latest technology to spot genetic vulnerabilities in cancer cells and use medications — or combinations of medications — to stop them from growing. This allows us to create targeted therapies: drugs or drug combinations tailored to treat specific cancers.
  • We offer advanced radiation treatments that are highly targeted to cancer cells.

Clinical trials

At City of Hope, we offer access to drug, surgical and other clinical trials aimed at improving survival rates and enhancing quality of life. In addition to these clinical trials, City of Hope has several others that will open soon that look at new therapies for patients with specific mutations and will explore new immunotherapy approaches — which are ways of helping the patient’s own immune system fight cancer.

Comprehensive, supportive care

City of Hope is one of the few centers in the country that treats small intestine cancer using a comprehensive, team-based approach by a team whose only focus is treating this type of cancer. Your care includes regular interaction and input from a team of surgeons, oncologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists and pathologists — along with nurses, genetic counselors, nutritionists and specially trained support staff.

That comprehensive approach to your care means better care and a strong potential for you to live longer. And your supportive care continues long after treatment is complete. Our specialists will help you adjust to post-treatment diet and lifestyle changes, and our unique family and survivorship programs will assist your loved ones.

City of Hope’s renowned physicians and researchers use the latest in technology and innovation to treat cancer, coupled with an enduring belief in providing unparalleled compassionate care. If you have been diagnosed with small intestine cancer or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

Colon and Rectal Surgery

Stephen M. Sentovich, M.D., M.B.A.

Clinical Specialties

  • Colon and Rectal Surgery

Diagnostic Radiology

Jonathan Kessler, M.D.

Clinical Specialties

  • Diagnostic Radiology
  • Interventional Radiology

Medical Oncology

Vincent Chung, M.D.

Clinical Specialties

  • Medical Oncology
Marwan G. Fakih, M.D.

Clinical Specialties

  • Medical Oncology
Dean W. Lim, M.D.

Clinical Specialties

  • Medical Oncology

Radiation Oncology

Yi-Jen Chen, M.D., Ph.D.

Clinical Specialties

  • Radiation Oncology

Surgical Oncology

Lily Lau Lai, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Clinical Specialties

  • Surgical Oncology
Laleh Melstrom, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.S.

Clinical Specialties

  • Surgical Oncology
  • Liver Cancer and Metastases
  • Pancreas Cancer
  • Gallbladder Cancer and Bile Duct Cancer
  • Robotic Minimally Invasive Surgery

Clinical trials

Getting treated for small intestine cancer at City of Hope means you are steps away from labs where new treatments are being developed every day. That proximity means you will benefit from something unique in cancer care — “bench to bedside” treatment. Bench to bedside means exciting new research we are conducting in our labs is moved quickly to the bedside to treat our patients.

Browse through some of our clinical trials and research projects here.

Living with small intestine cancer

When you come to City of Hope, you have access to a strong network of support services and staff to help you and your family along your cancer journey. That support includes everything from talk therapy to meditation to being paired up with a patient navigator. Learn more about the resources listed below at our Living with Cancer or Supportive Care Medicine sites.

  • Managing pain, fatigue and nausea
  • Adjusting to new diet and lifestyle habits
  • Your emotional, social and spiritual well-being
  • Staying healthy and active
  • Healthy cooking and eating
  • Healing arts
  • Caregiver skills
  • Dealing with family stress
  • Controlling cancer risk with exercise
  • Navigating the health care system
  • Occupational and rehabilitation services

Once treatment is complete, City of Hope’s support services include education and training from nurses who provide specialty care for patients with wounds resulting from intestinal surgery.

Giving to City of Hope

It takes the help of a lot of caring people to make hope a reality for our patients. City of Hope was founded by individuals' philanthropic efforts more than 100 years ago. Their efforts — and those of our supporters today — have built the foundation for the care we provide and the research we conduct.

For more information about supporting the colorectal cancer program, please contact Donor Relations. Or, you can make a gift to support all the research at City of Hope by donating online.