Signs & Symptoms of Small Intestinal Lymphoma

Lymphoma of the small intestine, also known as cancer of the small bowel, is an extremely rare form of cancer that occurs in the lymph tissue, usually in the jejunum. It typically belongs to the non-Hodgkin's subtype. While it remains rare, rates are climbing, possibly as a result of immunosuppression for AIDS or transplants. As with most lymphomas, the exact cause of small intestinal cancer is unknown.

Signs and Symptoms

As with many lymphomas, early detection of intestinal cancer can be difficult because the symptoms may be subtle. Some signs and symptoms or small intestinal lymphoma include the following:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Bloody stools
  • Dark, tarry, black stools, indicating upper GI tract bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice

The above list is highly non-specific, meaning that the symptoms that might indicate small intestinal lymphoma might easily also indicate something else. That said, because it is best to catch cancer early, if you have any of the above symptoms and it seems to be getting worse, you would do well to consult with a health professional. Dark or black stools, in particular, are a sign of a serious medical condition (even if it's not cancer) and should be addressed immediately.

Some suggest bowel obstruction as a sign or symptom of small intestinal lymphoma, but the only mechanism for such an obstruction is the tumor itself growing so large and in such a position as to block the bowel either partially or completely. Such blockages would present with sharp pain in the abdomen, constipation, bloating and vomiting. In severe, untreated cases, the bowel could rupture, leading to hypotensive shock (low blood pressure caused by loss of blood). This requires immediate emergency surgical intervention.

Treatment and Prognosis

While many lymphomas call for chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the primary treatment protocol for small intestinal lymphoma is surgery. The successful removal of all cancerous tissue, necessary for the cancer to be "cured", depends greatly on the location and accessibility of the tumor(s). The surgery itself carries a risk, with a stated mortality rate of under five percent. Of the patients who have the tumor successfully removed, the five year survival rate is between 40 and 60 percent. The patient may have to adopt a different diet permanently after the surgery to maintain proper nutritional absorption.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may also be prescribed to clean up any outlying cancer cells or if surgery is unsuccessful or inconclusive. There exists not enough data to predict survival rates for these treatments.

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