Small Intestine Cancer Treatments

About Small Intestine Cancer

At Penn Medicine, patients with small intestine cancer receive their care from a multidisciplinary team of nationally recognized experts in the diagnosis, treatment and research of gastrointestinal cancer.

Also known as the small bowel, the small intestine is the portion of the digestive tract that connects the stomach with the large bowl, or colon. The small intestine is critical in the breakdown and absorption of food so the body can absorb nutrients.

The small intestine can be divided into three areas:

  • Duodenum
  • Jejunum
  • Ileum

Cancer of the small intestine is rare. There are five main types of intestinal cancer, differentiated by their appearance under a microscope:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor
  • Carciniod tumors
  • Lymphoma
  • Sarcoma
    • Leiomyosarcoma

Penn Medicine's multidisciplinary approach to cancer diagnosis and treatment provides better outcomes and gives patients access to the most advanced treatment, surgical techniques and clinical trials.

Because navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right physician.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.

Read more About Small Intestine Cancer

Diagnosing Small Intestine Cancer

An accurate cancer diagnosis from trusted cancer specialists is the first step in getting personalized treatment options to treat small intestine cancer.

Patients who choose Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, benefit from a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists including gastroenterologists, radiologists, pathologists and surgeons who work together to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan custom designed for each patient with small intestine cancer.

Cancer specialists at Penn Medicine are highly experienced in using the most advanced techniques for diagnosing small intestine cancer and are actively researching better and more precise ways to detect small intestine cancer.

Because an accurate diagnosis is a critical step in planning cancer treatment, it’s important patients know that when they come to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, they are taking an important step in getting the best cancer treatment.

Navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right person. Penn Medicine’s contact center has experienced cancer nurses available and ready to guide patients in finding the cancer specialist right for them.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.

Read more Diagnosing Small Intestine Cancer

Small Intestine Cancer Treatments

Following the diagnosis and staging of small intestine cancer, cancer specialists at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center develop a personalized treatment plan. Penn’s treatment options for small intestine cancer include:

  • Surgery
    • Resection
    • Surgical bypass
  • Radiation therapy
    • 3-D conformal radiation therapy
    • Intensity-modulated radiation treatment (IMRT)
    • Proton therapy
    • Volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT)
  • Chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy
  • Other treatments
    • Integrative medicine and wellness
    • Palliative care
    • Penn Home Care and Hospice

Because navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right physician.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.


Surgery for Small Intestine Cancer

Surgery is the most common treatment for intestinal cancer.

Resection

When the tumor is resectable, radical surgery offers the best chance for cure.

Resection is surgery that removes all or part of an organ that contains cancer. Resection surgery may include the small intestine and nearby organs if the cancer has spread. Surgeons may remove the section of the small intestine that contains the cancer and join the cut ends of the small intestine together. This procedure is called an anastomosis. Surgeons may also remove affected lymph nodes during the procedure.

Surgical Bypass

When the tumor cannot be completely resected, a surgical bypass can relieve symptoms. This procedure reroutes the small intestine, allowing food to go around a tumor that cannot be removed.

Radiation Therapy for Small Intestine Cancer

Radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine are recognized for techniques that target radiation precisely to the disease site while sparing nearby tissue.

Proton therapy at Penn Medicine is now being used to treat upper gastrointestinal cancers and recurrent tumors in the digestive tract. Penn Medicine is one of the only facilities in the country treating gastrointestinal cancers in this way.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. A radiation therapy schedule usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over an extended period of time. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.

3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy

The imaging technology used by radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine helps shape the radiation treatment beam to the shape of the tumor. Known as conformal radiation therapy, this technology gives doctors more control when treating tumors.

In conformal radiation, a special computer uses CT imaging scans to create 3-D maps of the location of the cancer in the body. The system permits the delivery of radiation from several directions, and the beams can then be shaped, or conformed, to match the shape of the cancer. Conformal radiation therapy limits radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue as well as the tissue in the beam's path.

Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

As national leaders in radiation therapy, radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine are experts in the use of the latest therapies, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), to treat cancer.

This advanced type of radiotherapy uses a computer-controlled device, called a linear accelerator, to deliver precise doses of radiation to tumors or specific areas within the tumors. Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus killing the cancer cells and preventing tumor growth.

In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells. Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images of the patient along with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor by controlling; or modulating; the intensity of the radiation beam. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be delivered to regions within the tumor while minimizing the dose to the surrounding area.

Proton Therapy

Penn Medicine is the only academic medical center in the country that is using proton therapy to treat recurrent gastrointestinal tumors in clinical trials. Also, radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine will soon use proton therapy to treat gastrointestinal cancers in the upper digestive tract.

Penn Medicine's Roberts Proton Therapy Center is the largest and most advanced facility in the world for this precise form of cancer radiation. Patients have access to one of the most sophisticated weapons against cancer, seamlessly integrated with the full range of oncology services available at Penn Medicine. Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor.

The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Proton therapy, like all forms of radiation therapy, works by aiming the energized particles, in this case protons, onto the target tumor. The particles damage the DNA of cells, ultimately causing their death. Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.

Volumetric-modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT)

Volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT) is a type of specialized intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT. VMAT delivers radiation by rotating the radiation machine, through one or more arcs while radiation is continuously delivered.

VMAT allows Penn radiation oncologists to treat complex cancers while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. VMAT shortens radiation delivery time, and offers patient more comfort because it does not require patients to lie completely still for long periods of time.

Penn radiation oncologists use RapidArc™ radiotherapy technology to treat hard to reach tumors.

Chemotherapy for Small Intestine Cancer

Penn Medicine specializes in a team approach to treatment with interdisciplinary care and innovative approaches that use chemotherapy to target tumors prior to surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is delivered through an intravenous catheter or a pill and targets cancer cells throughout the body. Depending on the stage of the tumor, chemotherapy may be given after surgery or in combination with radiation therapy.

Clinical Trials for Small Intestine Cancer

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials, many of which are conducted at Penn Medicine benefit patients through breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead. Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more successful.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapy, also called targeted therapy, uses the patients' own immune system to target cancer cells. Substances made by the body or in a laboratory are used to boost, direct or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer, and are delivered orally by pill or intravenously.  This type of cancer treatment is also called immunotherapy.

Radiation Therapy with Radiosensitizers

Radiation therapy with radiosensitizers is currently being studied in clinical trials. Radiosensitizers are drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. Combining radiation therapy with radiosensitizers may kill more tumor cells.

Endoscopic stent placement

If the tumor is blocking the duodenum, a stent may be placed to bypass the blockage.

Other Treatments for Small Intestine Cancer

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, patients at Penn Medicine may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent, and are designed to complement standard treatments,  not take their place.

Integrative Medicine and Wellness Programs

At Penn Medicine, integrative medicine and wellness services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative medicine and wellness programs offer patients and their families ways to enhance the quality of their lives, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Cancer specialists at Penn Medicine are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. The cancer team works with patients and families to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring the safety and health of patients.

The Abramson Cancer Center’s range of integrative supportive services is designed to help patients cope with the cancer experience and improve their overall sense of well-being. Services include:

The Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital at Pennsylvania Hospital offers a variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Care Clinic helps to manage cancer related symptoms. Integrative support programs include:

Support groups and educational programs are available at Pennsylvania Hospital throughout the year.

Palliative Care

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients.

Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies, or to and improve quality of life when curative therapies are no longer an option.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care.

Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families. The goals of palliative care are to enhance the quality of life for cancer patients and their families, and provide emotional and spiritual support to enhance personal growth.

Palliative care services are offered at Pennsylvania Hospital, and at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services offer a full range of home health care needs by partnering three top-level home health care services under one roof:

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services offer an array of specialized therapies and medications for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.

Oncology Navigation Specialists

Every step of cancer treatment; from a cancer diagnosis, to surgery and treatment to forming a survivorship plan; comes with different needs and issues that should be addressed.

Oncology Navigation Specialists at the Abramson Cancer Center are available to make a patient’s experience as seamless as possible. As experts in navigating complex health care situations, patient support specialists serve as a consistent point of contact and a reliable source for advice, support and direction for patients and families. They can help in a variety of ways including; provide emotional support, identify resources, and ensure access to information, support services, educational programs and community resources.

Learn more about Patient Navigation specialists at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Small Intestine Cancer Survivorship

Survivorship programs at Penn Medicine are a distinct phase of intestinal cancer care and are designed to help patients' transition from their cancer treatment routine to a post-cancer care lifestyle. There are more than 12 million cancer survivors living and thriving today as a result of advances in cancer treatment. However, cancer treatments can result in physical, emotional and financial complications long after the therapy is complete.

Read more Small Intestine Cancer Survivorship


Kristi Elder

Kristi Elder lived cancer free for 12 years after treatments in her mid-20s for a rare cancer. While coming to Penn for routine follow-up, a staff member recognized that Kristi could benefit from our survivorship program. In Kristi's first visit with o

Stand Up to Cancer

Peter O'Dwyer, MD, professor of Hematology-Oncology and program director of Development Therapeutics in the Abramson Cancer Center, was interviewed on NBC10's 10! Show about Penn's work as part of the Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team... Read more

Clinical Trials