Duodenal cancer: Symptoms, treatment, and survival rates

In this article, we look at what duodenal cancer is, along with its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. We also discuss survival rates for this type of cancer.

What is duodenal cancer?

Duodenal cancer develops in the small intestine, which is part of the digestive system and connects the stomach to the colon.

The small intestine, or small bowel, is a long, folded tube that sits in the lower abdomen. It consists of three parts: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum.

Duodenal cancer starts in the duodenum, which is the uppermost portion of the small intestine.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are four main types of small intestine cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma initially develops in the glandular cells that line the inside of the small intestine. Adenocarcinomas are the most common type of small intestine cancer, accounting for approximately 1 in 3 cases.
  • Sarcoma begins in the muscle and other supporting tissues of the small intestine. Around 10 percent of small intestine cancers are sarcomas.
  • Carcinoid tumors are slow-growing and develop in the neuroendocrine cells of the small intestine. Neuroendocrine cells produce hormone-like substances.
  • Lymphomas form in cells called lymphocytes. These are part of the immune system and are present in most parts of the body, including the intestines.

Small intestine cancers are rare, accounting for fewer than 1 in 100 of all cancers and fewer than 1 in 10 cancers that occur in the digestive tract.

This type of cancer is more common in older people, particularly in those aged over 60 years.


Small intestine cancer, including duodenal cancer, can cause a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • abdominal pain
  • bloody stools
  • diarrhea
  • a lump in the abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • weakness and fatigue
  • anemia, which is a low number of red blood cells
  • jaundice, which causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to become yellow

However, having these symptoms does not mean that a person has cancer. A range of conditions can cause similar symptoms, including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

As these symptoms can suggest several different health conditions, a person should consult a doctor as soon as they appear.

A number of factors can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

Risk factors for developing a type of small intestine cancer, such as duodenal cancer, include:

  • Age. Small intestine cancer is more common in older people.
  • Inherited conditions. These are health issues that a person inherits from a parent. Those that may increase the risk of developing small intestine cancer include:
    • familial adenomatous polyposis
    • Lynch syndrome
    • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
    • cystic fibrosis

    For duodenal cancer, a person’s outlook can depend on several factors, including the stage of the tumor at diagnosis.

    Because its symptoms can be vague and similar to those of other, less serious conditions, doctors often diagnose duodenal cancer at later stages.

    When they detect and treat the cancer at an early stage, the person’s outlook is generally better.

    According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the 5-year relative survival rate for all types of small intestine cancer is 67 percent. This means that, following a diagnosis of small intestine cancer, a person is 67 percent as likely to live for at least the next 5 years as someone without the condition.

    However, if a doctor diagnoses the cancer at an early stage, the survival rate increases to 83 percent.

    If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues and organs by the time of diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate is 73 percent. If the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, the same survival rate is 43 percent.

    It is important to note that these figures are just estimates, and doctors have based them on data that is at least 5 years old. Everyone’s outlook is different, and treatments for cancer are continuing to improve.


    Duodenal cancer is rare, and it develops in the duodenum, which is the first section of the small intestine. The symptoms are often vague and can be similar to those of other conditions. This can make diagnosing the cancer in early stages difficult.

    However, early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve a person’s outlook, so it is important to see a doctor about any unexplained symptoms, such as weight loss or abdominal pain.

    The best course of treatment can depend on how far the cancer has spread. Options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and biologic therapy.

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