Duodenal Cancer | Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center | Loyola Medicine

Duodenal Cancer

Overview and Facts about Duodenal Cancer

Duodenal cancer is cancer of the duodenum, which is the first section of the small intestine that follows the stomach in the digestive tract. Duodenal cancer is also called duodenal adenocarcinoma.

Your duodenum is responsible for processing the acid made by your stomach to aid in digestion. This acid is mixed with alkaline fluids (pH above 8) produced by the pancreas and bile produced by the liver and gallbladder to prepare the digestive tract for further digestion and nutrient absorption in the subsequent portions of the small intestine (the jejunum and ileum).

Although duodenal cancer is rare, it is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. Among all cancers of the small intestine (jejunum, duodenum, and ileum), duodenal cancer comes in second place in terms of frequency, following cancer of the ileum in first and preceding cancer of the jejunum in third.

Symptoms and Signs of Duodenal Cancer

Signs and symptoms of duodenal cancer include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

Since symptoms of duodenal cancer are often delayed or present only during advanced stages of the disease, duodenal cancer diagnosis is often delayed. Symptoms in advanced stages of duodenal cancer include anemia, gastrointestinal blockage and jaundice.

Causes and Risk Factors of Duodenal Cancer

Risk factors for duodenal cancer are not yet well-defined; however, dietary or nutritional factors are suspected to play a role. For instance, a diet high in bread, pasta, refined sugar, and red meat are overall risk factors for cancer in the small intestine and may thus be risk factors for duodenal cancer. Alcohol and coffee ingestion and tobacco use may also be risk factors. An increased intake of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of duodenal cancer.

Tests and Diagnosis of Duodenal Cancer

Endoscopy and cross sectional imaging are reliable imaging techniques used to identify and diagnose duodenal cancer. These imaging techniques are especially useful given the rather unclear signs and symptoms that would indicate the presence of duodenal cancer.

During an endoscopy a biopsy may be performed. During a biopsy, a small sample of the potentially affected tissue is removed and examined by a pathologist under a microscope to confirm the presence or absence of duodenal cancer.

Other testing methods include upper GI series with small bowel follow-through, which involves a series of X-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and small bowels, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans.

Treatment and Care for Duodenal Cancer

Given its rarity, little data exists to help guide treatment decisions for duodenal cancer. Despite duodenal cancer’s aggression, it is highly curable by removing portions of the affected duodenum. Surgical removal often gives patients pain relief and relief from intestinal blockage. However, caution is taken when removing tumors within the lower portion of the duodenum due to its proximity to the pancreas, bile duct, and other important organs.