Small intestine cancer symptoms are often vague. There are several types of small intestine cancers, and the symptoms can vary depending on the type of cancer and where the tumor develops. It’s important to note that symptoms associated with small intestine cancer are the same as those caused by a wide array of other medical conditions. If a person is experiencing one or more symptoms, he or she should consult with a physician, who can run a series of diagnostic tests to determine whether cancer is the cause.
Small intestine cancer sometimes causes pain in the stomach area that starts or gets worse after the individual eats. If a tumor has grown substantially, it may block the passage of digested food, leading to more intense pain that lasts longer. However, because stomach pain is also associated with many common and less serious conditions, a patient might be inclined to wait—sometimes for up to several months—before consulting a physician. Such a delay in treatment can reduce the number of effective options available.
Besides stomach pain, other symptoms that may indicate small intestine cancer include:
- Weight loss
- Blood in the stool
- A lump in the abdomen
- Weakness and fatigue
- Low red blood cell counts
Signs and symptoms of a soft tissue sarcoma
One type of cancer that can develop in the small intestine is soft tissue sarcoma. This is a relatively uncommon malignancy that can occur in various soft tissues throughout the body, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, synovial membranes, blood vessels and nerves.
Although soft tissue sarcomas can develop anywhere in the body, they most commonly occur in the head, neck, stomach cavity, arms and legs. If a soft tissue sarcoma that develops in the stomach cavity begins exerting pressure on nearby tissues, it can cause:
- Difficulty breathing
- Bloody, black or tarry stools
- Unexplained weight loss
Signs and symptoms of gastrointestinal stromal tumors
One type of soft tissue sarcoma that can affect the small intestine is a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). GISTs can develop anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, but most commonly occur in the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. In many cases, GISTs are so small that they will not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, larger GISTs can cause rapid bleeding, which in turn can cause someone to vomit blood or pass blood in their stools. Other signs and symptoms of a GIST include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- A palpable growth within the stomach cavity
The importance of small intestine cancer screening
As was explained above, small intestine cancer symptoms often resemble the symptoms of other, less serious conditions. That’s why it’s so important for individuals who are at a high risk for developing small intestine cancer to undergo regular screenings, especially if they’re experiencing any of the symptoms associated with this malignancy. Some of the risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of developing small intestine cancer include:
- Eating large amounts of fatty, smoked or cured foods
- Having certain genetic conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis
- Having a family history of small intestine cancer
High-risk individuals who are genetically predisposed to developing small intestine cancer or are experiencing symptoms should undergo screening to ensure that they catch any abnormalities as soon as possible. Doing so can make it easier to treat the malignancy and lead to an improved prognosis and quality of life. Screening might include:
- A physical examination to check for lumps and swelling within the stomach cavity
- Blood tests to identify high levels of certain proteins
- Fecal occult blood tests to determine whether the stool contains trace amounts of blood
- Imaging tests—including colonoscopy, computed tomography (CT) scans, endoscopy, positron emission tomography (PET) scans and X-rays—to check for any abnormalities within the gastrointestinal tract
Treatment for small intestine cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center
Moffitt Cancer Center has a highly specialized Gastrointestinal Oncology Program for diagnosing, treating and managing small intestine cancer. Our multispecialty small intestine cancer team addresses the needs of each patient by identifying the unique characteristics of his or her condition and then developing an individualized treatment plan. Our patients have full access to the most advanced treatments available, as well as nonsurgical interventions and an assortment of novel therapies that are offered through our robust clinical trials program. We also have a variety of supportive services geared toward enhancing a patient’s quality of life, and we offer it all in a single, convenient location.
To schedule an appointment, receive a second opinion or consult with one of our oncology specialists regarding small intestine cancer symptoms, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form. We’ve disrupted the traditional patient care model to provide patients with rapid access to cancer specialists with the goal of starting any necessary treatments as soon as possible. You can expect to be connected with a cancer expert within just one day, which is faster than any other cancer hospital in the country.