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Ann Epidemiol. 2009 Jan;19(1):58-69. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2008.10.004.

The epidemiology and pathogenesis of neoplasia in the small intestine.

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Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.



The mucosa of the small intestine encompasses about 90% of the luminal surface area of the digestive system, but only 2% of the total annual gastrointestinal cancer incidence in the United States.


The remarkable contrast in age-standardized cancer incidence between the small and large intestine has been reviewed with respect to the cell type patterns, demographic features, and molecular characteristics of neoplasms.


Particularly noteworthy is the predominance of adenocarcinoma in the colon, which exceeds 98% of the total incidence by cell type, in contrast to that of 30% to 40% in the small intestine, resulting in an age-standardized ratio of rates exceeding 50-fold. The prevalence of adenomas and carcinomas is most prominent in the duodenum and proximal jejunum. The positive correlation in global incidence rates of small and large intestinal neoplasms and the reciprocal increases in risk of second primary adenocarcinomas suggest that there are common environmental risk factors. The pathophysiology of Crohn inflammatory bowel disease and the elevated risk of adenocarcinoma demonstrate the significance of the impaired integrity of the mucosal barrier and of aberrant immune responses to luminal indigenous and potentially pathogenic microorganisms.


In advancing a putative mechanism for the contrasting mucosal susceptibilities of the small and large intestine, substantial differences are underscored in the diverse taxonomy, concentration and metabolic activity of anaerobic organisms, rate of intestinal transit, changing pH, and the enterohepatic recycling and metabolism of bile acids. Experimental and epidemiologic studies are cited that suggest that the changing microecology, particularly in the colon, is associated with enhanced metabolic activation of ingested and endogenously formed procarcinogenic substrates.

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