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Epidemiology, clinical features, and types of small bowel neoplasms

James C Cusack, Jr, MD
Michael J Overman, MD
Section Editor
Kenneth K Tanabe, MD
Deputy Editor
Diane MF Savarese, MD


The diagnosis of small bowel tumors is often difficult due to the rarity of these lesions and the nonspecific and variable nature of the presenting signs and symptoms. Thus, delay in diagnosis is common, which may result in the discovery of disease at a late stage and a poor treatment outcome.

Several tumors can arise within the small bowel, both malignant (adenocarcinoma, carcinoid, lymphoma, and sarcomas) and benign (adenoma, leiomyoma, lipoma). Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and specific tumor types will be reviewed here. Diagnosis, staging, and management of small bowel tumors are discussed separately. (See "Diagnosis and staging of small bowel neoplasms" and "Treatment of small bowel neoplasms".)


A variety of tumors, both malignant and benign, may arise within the small intestine.

Malignant tumors — The distribution of histologic types of small bowel malignant tumors is changing, largely because of the increasing incidence of carcinoids. In 1987, the most common histologic types of malignant tumors of the small intestine in population-based registry data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) were adenocarcinoma, 45 percent; carcinoid, 29 percent; lymphoma, 16 percent; and sarcoma, 10 percent [1]

In the year 2000, carcinoid tumors surpassed adenocarcinomas as the most common small bowel tumor reported to the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB) [2]. Between 1985 and 2005, the proportion of patients with carcinoids increased from 28 to 44 percent, while the proportion of adenocarcinoma decreased from 42 to 33 percent. The proportion of patients with stromal tumors and lymphoma remained essentially stable (17 and 8 percent, respectively).


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Literature review current through: May 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 20, 2017.
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