What Are The Warning Signs Of Small Intestine Cancer?

April 30, 2024

Small intestine cancer is an uncommon disease where mutations occur in cells that make up the small intestine tissues. These mutations cause cells to multiply out of control and form a tumor. The small intestine is located after the stomach, but before the large intestine. The small intestine's function is to absorb nutrients from the foods individuals have consumed. There are five variations of small intestine cancer. Adenocarcinomas are growths that begin in the small intestine lining that can become malignant. Sarcomas occur when the soft tissue of the small intestine develops a malignancy. Carcinoid tumors are usually found in the lower part of the small intestine and secrete abnormally large amounts of body chemicals. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors are a rare variation of this cancer that starts in the stomach. Intestinal lymphomas are cancers that begin in the lymph nodes and spread to the small intestine.

Several warning signs can signal the presence of cancer in the small intestine.


Anemia is a condition that occurs when the body does not have enough functioning red blood cells to deliver adequate amounts of oxygen to the cells around the body. There are a couple of ways anemia can be an indicative symptom of small intestine cancer. A cancerous growth in the small intestine tissues can ulcerate and bleed profusely, and the loss of blood from the circulatory system can result in a low count of red blood cells. A malignant tumor in the jejunum or first section of the small intestine can cause damage, erosion, and dysfunction of the internal intestinal lining. This damage can cause poor absorption of a mineral called iron from food. Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin or the substance that allows cells to transport oxygen around the body. Furthermore, a malignant tumor that develops in the lower part of the small intestine or the ileum may also cause injury or erosion to that region of the intestinal lining. This damage can inhibit the proper absorption of vitamin B12, which is required for the bone marrow to steadily produce new red blood cells to replace the old ones that naturally die off. Anemia results when vitamin B12 levels are so low that more red blood cells are dying than are being produced.

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Jaundice or hyperbilirubinemia is characterized by the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes due to too much bilirubin in the blood. In healthy individuals, the liver processes bilirubin into bile fluid that is then stored in the gallbladder. When the bile fluid is needed for digestion, it leaves the gallbladder and moves through the common bile duct into the small intestine. It is then used to break down fats in food into fatty acids for intestinal absorption. Bile fluids are finally reabsorbed by the lower part of the small intestine or the ileum. After being reabsorbed, bile fluids are resynthesized by the liver and go through the same process again. This mechanism keeps bilirubin in the blood at the proper level. However, some patients develop a malignant tumor in the upper part of the small intestine that blocks the entrance of the bile duct into the small intestine. The tumor stops bile fluid from draining from the bile duct into the intestine, causing it to accumulate. Once the bile ducts, gallbladder, and liver are at capacity, the bilirubin spills into the bloodstream. Too much bilirubin in the blood causes jaundice because of bilirubin's strong yellow pigmentation.

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Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is one of the first symptoms that commonly occur in individuals affected by cancer of the small intestine. This pain may occur when the digested food passing through the small intestine slows down. A growing malignant tumor can cause a partial blockage that slows the speed of food through the digestive tract. This slowing results in cramping pains in the abdomen as a result of the muscular movements of the intestine. The body triggers these muscular movements in an effort to stimulate the faster flow of food through the digestive tract. In some cases of small intestine cancer, the malignant tumor can cause complete intestinal obstruction that results in severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Other rare cases of small intestine cancer can result in the development of intestinal perforation or a hole in the wall of the small intestine. A perforation allows the contents of the small intestine to spill into the abdomen. This toxicity can result in sudden and severe abdominal pain. Frequent constipation from small intestine cancer can also result in bouts of abdominal pain.

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Dark Stools

Dark stools are a symptom of small intestine cancer that usually manifests when the disease has reached a substantial point in its progression. The dark coloring of the stool is caused by the presence of blood that has moved through the gastrointestinal tract and has been expelled with the stool. The same way that a malignant tumor in the small intestine can ulcerate and bleed out into the abdominal cavity, it can also cause bleeding back into the small intestine itself. Dark stools are characteristic of tumors that develop in the first section of the small intestine or the duodenum. As the blood moves through the digestive tract, it naturally coagulates or forms clots. The further up in the gastrointestinal tract the tumor is located, the darker the stool will be in color. Clotted blood that originates in the duodenum or stomach will have a tarry appearance, or it may look similar to coffee grounds. Stools that are darker than usual with dark red streaks can be indicative of a tumor in the middle section of the small intestine that has ulcerated or has caused a perforation of the intestinal wall.

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Chronic Fatigue And Weakness

Chronic fatigue and weakness are symptoms that may occur in individuals with cancer of the small intestine. These symptoms may occur for several different reasons. The abdominal pain an individual may experience with a malignant tumor of the small intestine can cause them to stop eating regularly. Without adequate consumption of nutrients, the patient cannot carry out the function of synthesizing nutrients into usable cellular energy. Profuse bleeding of a tumor in the small intestine can cause an iron deficiency that results in weakness and chronic fatigue. Malabsorption of vitamin B12 can occur if the malignant tumor affects the lining of the last part of the small intestine. Low vitamin B12 can cause the body to slow its healthy pace of red blood cell production, resulting in weakness and fatigue. A tumor in the first half of the small intestine that causes damage to its specialized lining can result in impaired absorption of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Without proper absorption of these substances, the cells are unable to use them for the production of ATP or usable cellular energy. Without adequate amounts of cellular energy, a patient will feel weak and fatigued frequently.

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