Small Intestinal Cancer
Small Intestinal Cancer Definition
The simplest definition of small intestinal cancer is a cancer that forms when cells in the small intestine grow out of control. To fully understand the nature of small intestinal cancer and treating the disease, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the small intestine, its parts, and how it functions.
People often refer to the small intestine as the digestive tract, and it’s a part of the gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract. The GI tract helps rid the body of solid waste and processes the food that passes within it for energy. The small intestine comprises the largest part of the digestive tract, but cancers in the small intestine are far less common than cancers in other parts of the digestive tract. Other cancers of the digestive tract include rectal, colon, and esophageal cancer.
After swallowing a bite of food, it passes through the esophagus to the stomach where digestion begins. Gastric juices in the stomach facilitate digestion and turn the bite of food into a thick fluid which is then passed to the small intestine. There, the food is broken down even further and nutrients are absorbed so they can fuel the body.
The small intestine is comprised of three parts; the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. The duodenum is the first section of the small intestine, and it’s where fluids from the liver and pancreas enter for further digestion. The jejunum and ileum comprise the majority of the small intestine, and it’s here where most nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream.
The small intestine empties though the ileum into the colon, which is the first section of the large intestine.
There are four varieties of small intestinal cancer, broken down as follows.
Adenocarcinomas are a type of small intestinal cancer that forms in the gland cells that line the interior of the intestine. 1 in 3 small intestinal cancers are adenocarcinomas.
Carcinoid tumors are a slow growing variety of neuroendocine tumor. It is also the most common small intestinal cancer.
Lymphomas can form anywhere in the body, including the small intestine. They form in lymphocytes, which are a type of immune cell.
Sarcomas form in connective tissues like muscle. The most common sarcomas that affect the small intestine are called gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GISTs.
Doctors believe that small intestinal cancers begin as a small growth on the interior lining of the intestine called a polyp, which is also how colorectal cancer develops. Most small intestinal cancers develop in a part of the duodenum called the ampulla of Vater. This region is very near the pancreas, so cancers that develop in this area are treated much like pancreatic cancer.
Small Intestinal Cancer Stages
After being diagnosed with small intestinal cancer, doctors run a series of physical exams and tests to determine the nature of the cancer and whether it’s spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. The purpose of staging is to provide doctors with a frame of reference for recommending treatment and offering the patient a prognosis.
Small intestinal cancers in their earliest stage are identified by the numeral 0, whereas cancers in an advanced stage receive the highest staging value of IV. As a general rule, the higher the numeral, the more the cancer has spread.
Small intestinal cancers are staged after a series of biopsies, exams, and imaging tests are performed. This is called a “clinical stage.” If surgery has already been performed, the cancer will be assigned a pathological stage.
Small intestinal cancers usually form in the inner lining of the intestine, but may soon grow into deeper layers. These parts of the small intestine are as follows:
Mucosa is the innermost layer, and is made up of three parts called the epithelium, lamina propria, and muscularis mucosa.
Submucosa lies just beneath the mucosa.
Muscularis propria is also called the thick muscle layers because it is where the small intestine contracts to force food along its path.,
Serosa and subserosa are the outermost layers of connective tissue covering the gastrointestinal tract.
Small intestinal cancers are most often staged according to the TNM staging system, which breaks down the cancer into three distinct categories. These letters represent the following pieces of information:
• T – Tumor – This letter describes how far the small intestinal cancer has grown into the wall layers of the small intestine, and whether it’s reached any nearby organs or structures.
• N- Nodes – This letter describes whether the small intestinal cancer has spread to any lymph nodes.
• M – Metastasized – This letter describes whether the small intestinal cancer has spread to distant areas within the patient’s body. The most likely places for small intestinal cancer to spread are the liver and peritoneal cavity.
Numerals will appear directly after these letters. Lower numerals mean the small intestinal cancer is in its earlier stages, while higher numbers mean the cancer is more advanced. The individual values of each category are then combined in a process called grouping, and then an overall stage is assigned to the cancer which may be I, II, III, or IV.
You may also notice coding that isn’t mentioned in the section above. This is what these values represent:
• TX – This means that the tumor can’t be accessed because there isn’t enough information
• T0 – This means that evidence of a primary tumor doesn’t exist
• NX – This means that information concerning lymph nodes is not available
Obviously, small intestinal cancer staging is a complex process that will lead to many questions. Doctors will offer patient’s a prognosis for patient recovery based on the information in the staging report. They will also recommend treatment based on the same data. Their recommendations and opinions are based on historical data, but every cancer is unique, so it’s important to be fully educated on treatment options.
Staging doesn’t take into account that every patient’s cancer is unique to their body. This is part of the reason why one treatment may work on one patient and not another. Always explore your treatment options so that you and your family can make an educated decision regarding your health and quality of life.
Small Intestinal Cancer Symptoms (signs of Small Intestinal cancer)
Symptoms associated with small intestinal cancer can be caused for a variety of other reasons which are far more common. However, when these symptoms persist, patients seek medical attention and receive a diagnosis after the cancer has been active for a few months. Symptoms associated with small intestinal cancer include:
• Stomach pain
• Vomiting and nausea
• Unexplained weight loss
• Dark colored stool caused by intestinal bleeding
The first symptom of small intestinal cancer is often cramping and pain the stomach region, which sometimes gets more acute after eating. As the cancer grows larger it can partially block digested food from passing all the way through the intestine. If the cancer grows to a large enough size, it may entirely block the intestine, which causes vomiting and more severe pain.
Sometimes cancerous tumors in the small intestine will start to bleed, which is what can eventually lead to anemia. This is what leads to symptoms like weakness and fatigue. If the bleeding is severe, stool begins to look black and tarry and the sufferer may even lose consciousness.
Small Intestinal Cancer Statistics
It is estimated that there will be 10,470 new cases of small intestinal cancer in 2018, which represents about 0.6% of new cancer cases for the year. Out of that 10,470, 1,450 cancer cases will result in death, which is 0.2% of all cancer deaths for the year. This means approximately 14% of cancer cases will result in death.
The 5 year prognosis for small intestinal cancer represents how many people survive for at least 5 years after their initial diagnosis. The 5 year survival rate for small intestinal cancer is around 67%. If the cancer is localized, which means it hasn’t spread, the 5 year survival rate jumps to 85%. About 31% of small intestinal cancers are diagnosed in the local stage. If the cancer has metastasized, the 5 year survival rate drops to 27%.
Only about 0.3% of men and women will be diagnosed with small intestinal cancer during their lifetime. Compared to other forms of cancer, small intestinal cancer is quite rare. In fact, it ranks as the 23rd most common cancer. Black men and women are nearly twice as likely to develop small intestinal cancer as white men and women, but Hispanic populations are less likely to develop the disease. Most new cases of small intestinal cancer are found in patients between the age of 55 and 74, but people much younger sometimes develop the disease. The median age for small intestinal cancer diagnosis is 66.
Interestingly, cases of small intestinal cancer have been increasing on average about 2.3% per year for the last 10 years, although 5 year survival rates have remained the same. It’s important to remember that statistics only tell part of the story, and cannot predict what may happen if you are diagnosed with cancer. If you do develop small intestinal cancer, talk to your doctor, speak with your family, and them make the best choice regarding treatment and your own mental health.
Causes of Small Intestinal Cancer
There is no clear-cut known reason why people develop small intestinal cancer, although scientists are curious why it’s so rare because it’s the longest part of the GI tract. There are risk factors for small intestinal cancer that may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease.
Small intestinal cancer forms when DNA changes happen inside of cells that comprise the small intestine. These changes cause the cancer to grow and eventually spread. Genes control when cells grow, divide, and die. Genes that control cell division and growth are called oncogenes, and genes that control when cells die are called tumor suppressor genes.
Changes to these genes cause the cells to malfunction, leading to uncontrolled cancer cell growth. Gene changes that affect the small intestine may be inherited from parents or could be caused by external factors like diet or alcohol dependency. It’s also quite possible that small cancer is purely random in some patients.
Risk factors may increase a person’s chances of developing small intestinal cancer. Some risk factors, like age, are uncontrollable, and others, like diet, are manageable. Still, one person may have a host of risk factors and never develop small intestinal cancer while another person with none develops the disease.
Risk factors for small intestinal cancer include the following:
• Sex – Men are slightly more likely to develop small intestinal cancer than women
• Age – People in their 60s and 70s are more likely to develop small intestinal cancer
• Race – African Americans are more likely to develop small intestinal cancer than other races
• Smoking – Some studies indicate that smoking tobacco is a risk factor for small intestinal cancer
• Alcohol Use – Some studies indicate that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for small intestinal cancer
• Celiac Disease – People with this disease have an increased risk of developing lymphoma of the intestine
• Colon Cancer – Colon cancer patients have a risk of developing small intestinal cancer
• Crohn’s Disease – People with this condition have a much higher risk of developing small intestinal cancer
• Inherited Syndromes – People in this category are more likely to develop adenocarcinoma
There are some other conditions that are considered risk factors for small intestinal cancer. These include Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and MUTYH-associated polyposis.
Small Intestinal Cancer Screening and Prevention
Screening is a process whereby a person receives routine testing for a particular variety of cancer in an effort to detect and treat it at an early stage, before it has a chance to spread. Because small intestinal cancer is so rare, and since there are no reliable and cost effective methods for early detection, screening for this disease is not recommended.
If a patient is identified as having a genetic predisposition to developing small intestinal cancer, certain diagnostic tests may be recommended by a doctor. However, it’s usually the onset of symptoms that motivate a person to seek a medical opinion from a qualified doctor.
The screening tests most commonly used for high-risk individuals includes physical exams, blood testing, X-rays, CT and PET scans, endoscopy, and colonoscopy. For everyone else, prevention is the best way to control the risk of developing small intestinal cancer.
Currently, there is no way to prevent developing small intestinal cancer, but certain risk factors can be reduced with lifestyle changes in some people. To find out more about risk factors that could influence the chance of developing small intestinal cancer, see above.
Small Intestinal Cancer Treatments
The preferred mainstream treatments for small intestinal cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is the primary treatment, and for many patients it’s the only treatment they need for recovery. In fact, surgery is the only treatment that’s capable of curing small intestinal cancer.
The goal of surgery is to remove all of the cancer, but this is only possible if the cancer remains in or near the place it originated. If the cancer spreads too far, surgery may still be performed to prevent potential issues when the cancer grows large enough to block the intestine or cause other problems. Ultimately, doctors will decide on surgery after reviewing the size and location of the tumor and assessing the overall health of the patient.
There are different types of surgery depending on the nature of the tumor. Palliative surgery may also be performed if the cancer has spread extensively. The purpose of palliative surgery is to relieve symptoms in patients with advanced stage small intestinal cancer.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. The drugs are either taken orally or injected directly into the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is capable of reaching cancer cells all over the body, but it’s not especially effective for small intestine adenocarcinoma. Still, chemotherapy is used in situations where the cancer has spread and after surgery in an effort to kill any remaining cancer cells.
There are a number of chemotherapy drugs used in different situations, and these have various side effects that can be quite unpleasant. The reason for the side effects is because chemotherapy drugs damage normal cells while attacking cancer cells. Talk to your doctor about chemotherapy side effects and how long they will last after the treatment is complete.
Small Intestinal Cancer
Radiation therapy is a process where high-energy radiation is used to kill cancer cells. If cancer can’t be removed surgically or is causing problems like internal bleeding, radiation therapy may offer a solution. It’s also sometimes used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
The form of radiation therapy most commonly used for small intestinal cancer is called external-bean radiation therapy. A machine is used to focus a radiation beam at the tumor from outside of the body. While this treatment is painless, there are side effects that may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and blistering of the skin where the beam is focused.
Alternative Treatments Used for Small Intestinal Cancer
If small intestinal cancer treatment falls outside of mainstream treatment protocols, it is considered “alternative.” If alternative treatment is used in tandem with mainstream treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, they are considered “complementary” treatments. If treatment unrelated to mainstream cancer care are used as the primary method for recovery, then they are called “alternative.”
Many alternative treatments for small intestinal cancer focus on the body’s natural healing abilities, a key part of which is the immune system. The goal with these alternative therapies is to reinforce the body’s natural defense system so it can effectively fight the small intestinal cancer cells. Because of small intestinal cancer’s low mortality rate and scarcity, some patients opt for treatment that is less destructive and invasive than chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Boosting the body’s immune system is usually accomplished with a highly specialized diet, vitamin supplements, and other alternative therapies like acupuncture and relaxation techniques. Alternative treatments may be especially helpful for patients using them in a complementary manner along with traditional treatments, or who are seeking relief from late stage cancer.
Some alternative small intestinal cancer treatments focus on the patient by conducting tests on the specific cancer residing in their body, which is entirely unique to them. The doctor will then use this information to develop a highly focused treatment protocol. Because every cancer is unique the individual, the idea is to use a broad range of testing to see what treatments are most effective at killing their small intestinal cancer. This is far different than the one-size-fits-all treatment approach employed by mainstream medicine.
As with any medical treatment, small intestinal cancer treatment is a highly personal matter that requires careful consideration. Always explore your options in detail so that you can make the best choices regarding small intestinal cancer treatment.
Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Small Intestinal Cancer
Vitamins and supplements often play a key role in the prevention and treatment of intestinal cancer. Vitamin deficiencies in patients have been linked to certain varieties of cancer, yet there is still a great deal of controversy surrounding the role vitamins play in regards to small intestinal cancer treatment.
Alternative treatments that focus on enhancing the immune system often utilize vitamin and supplement therapies. Many doctors also recommend a diet rich in vitamins and minerals to reduce risk factors associated with various forms of cancer. Some of the more common varieties of vitamins used for these purposes are as follows.
• Vitamin B6 – This essential vitamin supports the normal function of the adrenal glands. It also makes antibodies that help the immune system fight disease.
• Vitamin C – This is another essential vitamin and immune system booster. This natural vitamin also helps repair and regenerate tissue in the body, which is an essential process for many on cancer treatment protocols that include chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
• Vitamin D – Your body needs vitamin D to operate normally. There are scientific studies that prove that a link exists between vitamin D deficiencies and higher risks of cancer. While usually absorbed through the skin by exposure to natural sunlight, some people require vitamin D supplements to maintain proper levels. If you live in a northern latitude you won’t get enough sun during the winter months to provide you with adequate vitamin D. For this reason, you should have your vitamin D levels routinely checked by a doctor to be sure you’re getting the proper dosage.
• Vitamin E – This key vitamin helps the body fight infection, which is a powerful tool during cancer treatments that could make the body more susceptible to infections like pneumonia or bronchitis.
• Vitamin A – This is yet another vitamin that boosts the immune system while creating a barrier against infection.
• Selenium – Selenium has been shown to slow down cancer cells in aggressive cancers. Even though small intestinal cancer isn’t known to be aggressive, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ensure you’re getting enough in your diet.
There are many other supplements and vitamins commonly used during small intestinal cancer treatment or as a means of reducing risk factors in people genetically predisposed to developing the disease. Be sure to speak with your doctor before using any supplement or vitamin to make sure it fits within your prescribed treatment protocol.
Natural Remedies that May Help Small Intestinal Cancer
There are a number of natural remedies that small intestinal cancer patients use either to treat the disease, symptoms associated with the disease, or side effects caused by treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy. What follows is a breakdown of some of the more common natural remedies that may help small intestinal cancer patients.
• Massage – Massage can help patients deal with pain while offering the relaxing qualities of personal touch. It’s also a powerful natural remedy that helps cancer patients relax and relieve stress.
• Herbal Preparations – These often take the form of teas and tinctures that can be taken orally to relieve pain. Some herbal preparations are designed to boost the body’s metabolism or reinforce the immune system.
• Dietary supplements – There are numerous vitamins and supplements thought to help prevent cancer and boost the body’s natural ability to combat small intestinal cancer cells if they do form.
• Physical therapy – Join and muscle pain are common side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Physical therapy often helps relieve this pain while building overall strength, and it can also help a patient avoid the pitfalls of weight gain.
• Hydrotherapy – Large water basins, swimming pools, spas, Jacuzzis, and even hot and cold body wraps are capable of offering relief from stress and pain often associated with cancer and its more invasive treatments.
• Acupuncture – Many people swear by the healing and pain relieving abilities of acupuncture, which is a form of medicine that’s been around for millennia. Acupuncture can be especially helpful for patients suffering from insomnia, hot flashes, nausea, and other side effects common to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
• Counseling – There are many forms of counseling that can help with emotional stress or assist patients to adopt healthier lifestyles.
• Diet and Exercise – Eating healthy and remaining active are two of the best ways to maintain a healthy body and strong immune system. Nutrition plays a proven role in cancer prevention, so it’s important to eat plant-based foods with the nutrients that body needs to operate at its best
As with any form of cancer treatment, be sure to talk to your doctor before pursuing any natural remedy because it could interfere with prescribed treatment protocols or potentially pose other health risks.
Dealing with the aftermath of a small intestinal cancer diagnosis
Cancer not only affects a patients physical health, but also their mental health. After being diagnosed with cancer, patients typically experience a wide range of emotions that can lead to depression and anxiety. Worse, these emotions can change by the day, hour, or even minute. Even if a family member is diagnosed with cancer, these emotions can surface and lead to similar symptoms.
There are steps patients can take to help them deal with this onslaught of emotions, but not everyone takes advantage of these resources. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine, it is recommended that you seek out help and advice from:
• Family members, friends, and other loved ones
• Other people who have or have had cancer
• Professional counselors
• Your faith
It’s also important for family members of cancer sufferers to acknowledge their own emotional needs and address them in some constructive way. This isn’t always easy, and in some parts of the country there is a lack of adequate mental health resources. S
Still, this is when family, friends, and faith can make a huge difference in the way cancer is addressed, both by patients and the people that love them.
Treatments associated with cancer, like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have side effects that can be both physical and emotional in nature. This can mask depression, which has some similar symptoms that include:
• Loss of apetite
• Loss of energy
The danger here is that depression can cause patients to act in away that is even more detrimental to their overall health. For example, nutrition plays an important role in recovery, but if a patient refuses to eat because of depression they may ultimately be damaging their chances of recovery.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with small intestinal cancer, please take the time to address your emotional needs just as do your physical needs. Ultimately, it could have a lasting effect on your overall health and wellness.
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