Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Intestinal cancer symptoms

The small intestine is a long, coiled tube that funnels digested food from the stomach into the colon (the large intestine). Along the way, the digested material is further broken down and nutrients and amino acids are absorbed.

The material first enters the duodenum, one of three sections of the small intestine where digestion is aided by enzymes secreted by the pancreas and bile from the liver. The middle section, the jejunum, propels the food into the ileum, the final and longest section food travels through before being emptied into the colon. Absorption of vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and nucleic acids happens as the food moves through the jejunum and ileum.

Tumors in the small intestine may block the flow of food and affect digestion. As the tumor gets bigger, the blockages may cause pain in the abdomen. A slowly bleeding tumor may lead to anemia. Digested blood may cause the stool to become black or tarry. An obstruction—when the flow of food is completely blocked—may cause intense pain, nausea and vomiting and typically requires immediate surgery.

In general, however, intestinal symptoms are often vague and difficult to diagnose.

cancer symptoms

Intestinal cancer symptoms

The following are some common symptoms of small intestine cancer:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue (sometimes a result of anemia)
  • Bloody or tarry stools (from bleeding tumors)
  • A noticeable lump in the abdomen

More on small intestine cancer symptoms

Abdominal pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting may be signs of an intestinal obstruction. In this case, you may require immediate medical attention. Often, surgery is necessary to remove the blockage. In rare cases, the tumor may cause a perforation in the intestinal wall, causing the contents to spill out into the abdominal cavity. This, too, will cause severe pain and vomiting.

Small intestine cancer symptoms may be signs of other conditions or gastrointestinal diseases. Often, however, small tumors may not cause any apparent symptoms. Sometimes the cancer may be found by chance during another unrelated procedure or surgery.

Slow growing types of cancer, like carcinoid tumors, may take years to find and diagnose.

Understanding cancer symptoms

These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you notice any cancer signs or symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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