FAQs Gastrointestinal Cancers

What are the most common types of gastrointestinal cancer?

Gastrointestinal cancers are the most common cancers worldwide. As a whole they are responsible for more cancers and deaths from cancer than any other system in the body. One in every twenty people will be affected by colon cancer, one of the GI cancers.

Gastrointestinal cancer (GI) affects the organs of your digestive tract. The most common GI cancers include the following:

  • Anal cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Small intestinal cancer
  • Stomach cancer(gastric cancer)

The most common cancer types are:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Neuroendocrine tumours
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs)

What are the most common symptoms of GI cancer?

There may be no symptoms in the early stages of GI cancer. Symptoms are caused when usually the tumor has grown sufficiently big.They are usually diagnosed at this point.

The symptoms may include:

  • Cramping or pain in the abdomen
  • Stool that is bloody or black colored
  • Changes in bowel habits especially recent change such as diarrhoea or constipation, or changes in stool consistency or narrowing
  • Swallowing Difficulties
  • Digestive issues
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • The abdomen is swollen
  • Tiredness, weakness, weight loss, or appetite loss

Why do GI cancer develop?

GI tract cancers develop when the cells lining one or more of the digestive tract’s organs begins to grow uncontrolled, producing tumours and occasionally spreading to lymph nodes and other organs.

The cause of GI cancer is still not fully known to medical experts. Still, cell damage increases the likelihood of abnormalities appearing, which can be caused by infections, obesity, smoking, and some environmental risk factors. GI cancers can also be hereditary i.e. they run in family.

Risk factors that increase your chances of developing GI cancer are:

  • Infection with Hepatitis A or B (liver cancer)
  • Infection with Helicobacter Pylori (stomach cancer)
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Gastritis
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Having a history of GI cancer or another cancer
  • Previous surgery on one or more digestive organs
  • Family history of GI cancer
  • Polyps that had previously grown in the colon or stomach

How can chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer be lowered ?

It has been observed that more than 2/3 of GI cancers are lifestyle related. Several lifestyle changes can lower your chances of developing these cancers. These include avoiding alcohol and smoking, eating plenty of green vegetables, avoiding preserved or burnt meats, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising on a regular basis.

What are the chances of a cure?

When detected early these cancers can be cured. Even in advanced stages with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy one can think of cure. But needless to say do not ignore any early symptoms.

Can gallstone cause cancer?

Although gallstones are common, only a small percentage of those who have them will develop gallbladder cancer. Your cancer risk increases if a gallstone is large, or you have a close relative who has gallbladder cancer. 

Robotic/Laparoscopic Surgery for GI cancers

The robotic/laparoscopic technique has completely transformed the field of surgery.

In addition to the obvious cosmetic benefits, research has shown that it results in:

  • Less surgical trauma
  • A shorter hospital stay
  • Less blood loss
  • A lower complication rate
  • An earlier return to work

Laparoscopic/Robotic surgery is increasingly being used to treat colorectal, esophageal, and gastric cancers. Thanks to technological advances and increasing surgeon expertise, cancers of the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder can now be operated on laparoscopically/robotically in selected cases. 

Author : Dr. Neeraj Goel, Director & Senior Consultant, Gastrointestinal, Minimal Access, HPB and Bariatric Surgery, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi

Narayana Health

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