Small bowel cancer - diagnosis and treatment


Small bowel cancers can be difficult to diagnose. For this reason, people who may have small bowel cancer undergo many tests and procedures to locate and rule out cancer.

Small bowel cancer - diagnosis and treatment

Imaging tests

Imaging tests use machines to create images of the body to look for signs of small bowel cancer. Imaging tests used to diagnose small bowel cancer include:

Computed tomography


Positron emission tomography

X-ray of the upper GI tract and small intestine after drinking a solution containing barium (examination of the upper GI tract by tracing barium in the small intestine)

Nuclear medicine imaging, which uses a small amount of a radioactive tracer to improve imaging tests

Tests to explore the inside of the small intestine

Endoscopic tests involve placing a camera inside the small intestine. So your doctor can examine the inner walls. Endoscopic tests may include:

upper endoscopy

Capsule endoscopy sometimes called capsule endoscopy

mono balloon endoscopy

Double balloon intestinal endoscopy

spiral intestinal endoscopy

Unlike capsule endoscopy, other endoscopic tests allow doctors to pass special instruments into the small intestine to collect tissue samples for testing.


Sometimes small bowel cancer is found in places that are difficult to detect with other tests. In these cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to examine your small intestine and surrounding area for signs of cancer.

Surgery may involve one large incision in the abdomen (laparotomy), or it may involve several small incisions (laparoscopy).

During laparoscopy, the surgeon passes specialized surgical tools through the incisions, as well as a video camera. 

The camera allows the surgeon to direct the instruments and see inside the abdomen.


How small bowel cancer is treated depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Options may include:

surgery. Whenever possible, surgeons work to remove all of the small bowel cancer. If cancer affects a small part of the small intestine, surgeons may remove only that portion and then reconnect the cut portions. In some cases, the entire small intestine may need to be removed.

If removal of small bowel cancer isn't possible, surgeons may perform bypass surgery to relieve small bowel obstruction.

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy usually involves a combination of drugs that kill rapidly growing cells, including cancer cells. 

This is usually given into a vein in your arm, but it can also be taken as a pill.

In cases of small bowel cancer, chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery if there's a risk of cancer recurring. In advanced cancer, chemotherapy may help relieve signs and symptoms.

Targeted drug therapy. Targeted drug treatments focus on specific weaknesses found within cancer cells. 

By restricting this abnormality, targeted drug treatments can kill cancer cells. Targeted medications may be used for some types of small bowel cancer, including gastrointestinal tissue tumors and lymphoma.

Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer. 

Your body's immune system may not attack cancer; This is because cancer cells produce proteins that bind the cells of the immune system. 

Immunotherapy works by interfering with that process. Immunotherapy may be an option for advanced small bowel cancer if tests show that the cancer cells may respond to this type of treatment.

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies about new advances in therapies, medical interventions, and tests used to prevent, treat and manage this health condition.

Adaptation and support

Over time, you'll find something to help you overcome the uncertainty and distress of being diagnosed with small bowel cancer. Until then, it may be helpful to:

Learn more about small bowel cancer to help you make decisions about your care. You consult with your doctor about your cancer, including the results of your examination, treatment options, and, if desired, predictions about the course of the disease. 

The more you know about small bowel cancer, the more confident you may become about making treatment decisions.

Keep your friends and family close. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you deal with your small bowel cancer. 

Your friends and relatives can give you the practical support you'll need, such as helping take care of your home if you're in the hospital. 

They can also give emotional support if you feel like cancer has overtaken you.

Find someone you can talk to. Find a good listener who is receptive to hearing you talk about your hopes and fears. This person could be a friend or family member. 

Other things like getting the attention and support of a counselor, medical social worker, chaplain, or cancer support group may also help.

Ask your doctor about support groups available in your area. Other sources of information include the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Prepare for your appointment

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects you may have cancer, you may be referred to a specialist.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before you go 

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