Canadian Cancer Society logo

Small intestine

You are here: 

Chemotherapy for small intestine cancer

Chemotherapy is not usually the main treatment for most small intestine cancers. Chemotherapy is generally less effective than surgery for treating adenocarcinoma, the most common type of small intestine cancer.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to treat cancer. It is usually a systemic therapy that circulates throughout the body and destroys cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour.

Chemotherapy may be used:

  • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced small intestine cancer (palliative chemotherapy)
    • Chemotherapy may be used for small intestine cancers that cannot be removed with surgery (are unresectable) or have spread (metastasized).
  • after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (adjuvantadjuvantTreatment given in addition to the first-line therapy (the first or standard treatment) to help reduce the risk of a disease (such as cancer) coming back (recurring). chemotherapy)
    • Chemotherapy plays an important role for certain types of small intestine cancer, such as lymphomas, neuroendocrine tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).

Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.

Chemotherapy drugs

Because small intestine cancers are very uncommon, it is difficult to know which drugs work best. There is no standard drug therapy for treating small intestine cancer. Doctors may use chemotherapy drugs that work for colorectal or stomach cancer when treating small intestine adenocarcinoma cancers.

The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat adenocarcinoma of the small intestine are:

  • 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU) and leucovorin (folinic acid)
    • Leucovorin is usually added to improve the effectiveness of 5-FU.
  • capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
  • irinotecan (Camptosar, CPT-11)

The most common chemotherapy combinations used to treat small intestine adenocarcinomas usually include 5-FU. Some of the chemotherapy combinations that may be used include:

  • 5-FU and oxaliplatin
  • 5-FU and irinotecan
  • capecitabine and oxaliplatin

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

Treatment with chemotherapy also depends on the type of small intestine cancer. Neuroendocrine tumours, small intestine lymphomas and GISTs are treated with different drugs.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about chemotherapy.


Dr Xiaoyan Jiang Dr Xiaoyan Jiang found a way to predict how a type of leukemia will respond to treatment.

Learn more

Cancer information in over a hundred languages

Illustration of question mark

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) is Canada’s only national, bilingual, toll-free service that offers personalized comprehensive cancer information in over 100 languages.

Learn more