Supportive care for small intestine cancer

Supportive care helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Recovering from small intestine cancer and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person. Recovery depends on the stage, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects. You may have the following concerns if you have been treated for small intestine adenocarcinoma.

Nutrition and short bowel syndrome

The small intestine is the most important organ in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The small intestine takes up, or absorbs, almost all of the nutrients from our food. This includes vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

If the surgeon has to remove a large part of the small intestine to treat the cancer, there may not be enough tissue left for the small intestine to properly take in the nutrients and water from your food to keep you healthy. This is called short bowel syndrome.

The symptoms of short bowel syndrome include diarrhea, cramping, bloating, changes to the stool (pale, greasy and foul-smelling), heartburn, weakness and fatigue. Not getting enough nutrients can lead to weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition.

Your healthcare team might suggest medicines to treat diarrhea and heartburn. They may also suggest ways to help you cope with short bowel syndrome, such as:

Vitamin and mineral supplements may reduce the amount of nutrients lost from food. Your healthcare team may recommend that you take iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc supplements.

Vitamin B12 injections may be needed if you develop anemia.

Ahigh calorie diet may be needed to give you extra protein, carbohydrates and fats. Eating small meals often may be helpful with mild forms of short bowel syndrome.

Oral rehydration is drinking special sugar and salt liquids. The healthcare team may use it to treat dehydration.

Tube feeding and parenteral nutrition may be used if you have trouble eating and you can’t maintain your nutrition. Tube feeding is a way of getting nutrients directly into your small intestine. Parenteral nutrition delivers liquid nutrients, fluids and electrolytes through a needle put into your vein (intravenously). Find out more about tube feeding and parenteral nutrition.

Short bowel syndrome may get better as time passes. The remaining small intestine will grow more inner lining so it can better absorb nutrients.

Fear of recurrence

Small intestine adenocarcinoma often comes back after treatment, which can be very worrying. This is normal, but it’s important to focus on living, taking care of your health and making the most of each day.

Find out how to cope with worrying that your cancer will come back.

Living with advanced cancer

Many people with small intestine adenocarcinoma are diagnosed when the cancer is very advanced. A diagnosis of advanced cancer can be very hard to understand and accept. There is no way of knowing or predicting how long someone will live with advanced cancer. Some people may live much longer than expected, while others may die sooner than expected. Doctors may be able to guess at a timeline based on what they know about a person and the type of cancer, but it’s not an exact science.

Find out more about living with advanced cancer.

Questions about supportive care

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

Expert review and references