Small intestine

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Treatments for small intestine cancer

If you have small intestine cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health needs and specific information about the cancer.

Treatments offered for small intestine cancer depend on the type of tumour. The following information is about small intestine adenocarcinoma. Talk to your healthcare team about treatment options if you have a different type of small intestine cancer.

Small intestine adenocarcinoma

The types of treatments offered for small intestine adenocarcinoma depend on if the tumour is:

  • resectable (it can be removed with surgery)
  • unresectable (it can’t be removed with surgery)
  • recurrent (it has come back after treatment)

You may be offered the following treatments for small intestinal adenocarcinoma.


The type of surgery will depend on where the tumour is in the small intestine.

Segmental small bowel resection removes part of the small intestine. It is used for tumours in the lower part of the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Segmental resection may also be offered for tumours in the middle (the jejunum) or the lowest part (the ileum) of the small intestine, but only if the tumour hasn’t spread to surrounding tissues. It may also be used to open a blockage in the intestine (called a bowel obstruction) or repair a hole in the intestine (called a bowel perforation).

The Whipple procedure (also called pancreaticoduodenectomy) removes part of the pancreas along with the duodenum. It also removes the lower part of the stomach, the gallbladder and part of the common bile duct. The Whipple procedure is used for tumours that are near the stomach or near the ducts of the pancreas and liver.

Right hemicolectomy is a type of bowel resection that removes part of the ileum (the last part of the small intestine), the cecum (the first part of the large intestine) and parts of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). It is used to remove tumours that are close to the colon or that are where the small intestine joins the colon.

Palliative surgery is done to relieve pain and other symptoms caused by a small intestine tumour. It is used when a tumour can’t be completely removed with surgery because it has spread too far or when a tumour blocks the intestine.


You may be offered chemotherapy to relieve pain or control symptoms of advanced or recurrent small intestine adenocarcinoma. Chemotherapy may also be given after surgery if the cancer wasn’t completely removed.

Researchers are still trying to find out which chemotherapy drugs are best for small intestine adenocarcinoma. You may be offered one or more of the following drugs:

  • 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU)
  • capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
  • irinotecan (Camptosar)

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy can damage the intestine, so it is rarely used to treat small intestine adenocarcinoma. External beam radiation therapy may be used to:

  • relieve symptoms of a blocked intestine (called a bowel obstruction)
  • stop bleeding from a small intestine tumour
  • treat pain where small intestine cancer has spread, or metastasized, such as the bones

Other types of small intestine cancer

Find out more about treatments for the following types of tumours in the small intestine:

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 2 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

Very few clinical trials in Canada are open to people with small intestine adenocarcinoma because this type of cancer is so rare. Clinical trials look at new and better ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.