What is Duodenal Cancer?

Duodenal cancer, also known as duodenal adenocarcinoma, is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the duodenum. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine that food enters after leaving the stomach. Duodenal cancer is rare, but it is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.

The duodenum, like the rest of the small intestine, plays an important role in digesting food by preparing your body to absorb the nutrients from what you ate. The duodenum does this by mixing the acid your stomach makes with alkaline liquids (pH higher than 7) produced by other digestive organs.

What are symptoms of duodenal cancer?

Unfortunately, it usually takes a while to catch duodenal cancer because the symptoms can take a while to show up. This means the condition is often in advanced stages when it is caught. Duodenal cancer in late stages has severe signs and symptoms such as anemia, jaundice, and a blockage in your stomach or intestines.

Although not a complete list, milder signs and symptoms of duodenal cancer can include the following:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss that has no explanation
  • Pain in your abdomen

How is duodenal cancer diagnosed?

There are variety of tools doctors can use to diagnose duodenal cancer. For example, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) allows doctors to take high-quality images of your internal organs taken from inside the body (as opposed to X-ray, which takes images of bones and joints from the outside). During the procedure, your doctor will insert a long, flexible tube called an endoscope into your digestive tract to capture these detailed pictures of your organs.  

Other procedures include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a procedure that uses a combination of radio waves and magnetic fields to create images of organs and tissue inside the body.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan is a diagnostic procedure that creates detailed images of organs and tissue inside the body.
  • X-ray is a kind of radiation that uses electromagnetic waves to create images—mainly of bones and joints.

Because duodenal cancer is so rare, scientists are learning more about the disease every day and how to treat it. Even though the cancer is very aggressive, the good news is that you stand a pretty good chance of being cured. Treatment usually involves removing the parts of the duodenum that has the cancer and some of healthy tissue surrounding it. Doctors remove some of the healthy tissue along the border of the tumor in hopes of keeping the cancer from spreading. Right now, surgery is the only option to treat cancer in this part of the body.