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Intestinal cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Intestinal cancer, also known as small intestine cancer or small bowel cancer, is very rare, accounting for less than 1 percent of all new cancer diagnoses. Stretched out, the small intestine is about 21 feet long and comprises a large part of the digestive system. Still, it accounts for only 10 percent of all gastrointestinal cancers.

The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 12,440 people in the United States will be diagnosed with small intestine cancer in 2024.

No intestinal cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

Intestinal cancer is such an important focus at City of Hope that each of our hospitals has a GI Cancer Center dedicated to treating patients with all stages of gastrointestinal diseases. Our gastroenterologists and oncologists understand the complexities of intestinal cancer and the array of treatment options available to you, including the Whipple procedure, segmental resection (hemicolectomy) and palliative procedures.

We also offer supportive care services to manage side effects before, during and after treatment. This overview will cover the basic facts about intestinal cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of intestinal cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your intestinal cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes intestinal cancer?

Who gets intestinal cancer?

Statistics show that intestinal cancer risk is slightly higher for men than women. Nearly a third of all cases are diagnosed in patients older than 65, and the average age of diagnosis is 67.

People who smoke or drink alcohol, who have gastrointestinal conditions or cancers or who have certain inherited diseases are at increased risk of developing intestinal cancer.

Phil Bosanko

Phil B.

Colorectal Cancer

"I remember a conversation I had with my medical oncologist in the first year I was going through treatment at City of Hope. I told him, 'I'm not going to make it to deer camp this year.' I was bummed. But he assured me I was well on my way to getting better. He said, 'You'll be at deer camp next year.' The next November, I went up to deer camp and harvested the biggest deer of my life."


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Intestinal cancer types

Intestinal cancer, also called small intestine cancer or small bowel cancer, usually starts in the lining of the small intestine and may spread from the digestive system to other parts of the body. Most cases of intestinal cancer develop in the duodenum, or upper part of the small intestine.

The main types of cancer in the small intestine include:

  • Adenocarcinomas, which usually form in the cells that line the walls of the small intestine, often developing out of small, benign (noncancerous) growths called polyps
  • Sarcomas, which develop in the connective tissue of the small intestine
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors, which are variants of soft-tissue sarcoma
  • Carcinoid tumors, also called neuroendocrine tumors, which form in the lining of the intestines and are often slow-growing
  • Lymphomas, which may originate in the intestines

Learn more facts about intestinal cancer types

Intestinal cancer symptoms

Diagnosing intestinal cancer

Tools and procedures used for intestinal cancer screening and diagnosis include:

  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series
  • Endoscopic procedures
  • Enteroclysis
  • Barium enema with X-rays
  • Computerized tomography scan (CT scan)

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for intestinal cancer

Intestinal cancer treatment options

Intestinal cancer diagnosis and treatment options at our GI Cancer Centers

At City of Hope, we understand that intestinal cancer and other malignancies of the gastrointestinal tract create unique challenges for patients, and that treatment options are very specific to each disease. That’s why each City of Hope hospital has a GI Cancer Center dedicated to diagnosing, treating and supporting the quality of life of patients with intestinal and other GI cancers. The clinicians at each of our GI Cancer Centers are committed to offering state-of-the-art treatments for patients with gastrointestinal cancer. Our multidisciplinary team of board-certified medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and gastroenterologists work together with our supportive care providers and each patient to deliver clinical care with a patient-centered approach. After your diagnosis is confirmed, our GI Cancer Center care team will discuss your options with you and help you develop a personalized care plan tailored to your individual needs.

Because of the digestive tract’s role in processing food and waste, many patients with gastrointestinal disease have difficulty with digestive function. That’s why nutrition therapy is a key component of our GI Cancer Centers’ approach. The centers each have a dedicated dietitian on staff to work with patients in developing a healthy, balanced and appetizing nutrition plan. If patients become malnourished, the dietitian is available to help them establish healthy lifestyle and eating habits to help improve their condition.

The GI Cancer Center teams also work closely with other supportive care clinicians to manage additional disease- and treatment-related side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. These supportive care experts may include a pain management physician, as well as naturopathic, behavioral health and spiritual support providers.

Qualified patients are also offered carefully selected clinical trials. Your care team will discuss whether you qualify for any of our ongoing clinical trials and, if so, help you enroll.