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St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center offers a high level of clinical expertise in preventing, diagnosing, and treating all types of cancer and tumors (whether benign or cancerous).

What Is Gastrointestinal Cancer?

Think of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract as a tube running from the mouth through the body to the anus. When you eat, food passes through the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, small intestines, colon, and rectum. Along the way, after food is chewed and swallowed, nutrients are extracted and digested. What remains as waste products exit the body. When an abnormal growth, or tumor, forms anywhere along this path, it can lead to GI cancer. Such growths can develop due to genetics, radiation exposure, tobacco use, or certain infections or other health conditions. Lifestyle choices such as eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables, not getting enough exercise, or being overweight, may contribute to a higher risk of developing GI cancer. 

There are different forms of GI cancer. The most common are esophageal cancer, gastric (stomach) cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. 

Less common forms of GI cancer include neuroendocrine tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors or gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors (in the lining of the GI tract), and anal cancer.

What are signs of GI Cancer?

Based on the type of cancer, different symptoms can occur. For example, blood in the stool or vomit may indicate a tumor in the GI tract lining. Pain or trouble with swallow can be a sign of esophageal cancer. Colorectal cancer can cause blood or other problems with bowels.

How is GI Cancer Diagnosed?

There are different ways to determine if there is cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Endoscopy is a test that can identify tumors in the lining of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine.
  • A colonoscopy test checks the lining of the colon and rectum for polyps, which are small growths that can be removed before they may develop into tumors.
  • Blood tests can show changes that may indicate cancer is present.
  • Imaging tests including CT scans, MRI, ultrasound, x-rays or PET scans can look for potential tumors anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract. If a growth is noted, a biopsy test takes a small piece of the growth. The tissue is then looked at under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. 

Treatment options

There are different approaches to treating gastrointestinal cancer, typically based on how advanced it is and its location.

  • Surgery removes tumors when they are small and easy to reach; it will also take away surrounding tissue to ensure the tumor hasn’t spread. Sometimes, additional work may be necessary to ensure the area, such as the stomach or the esophagus, can continue working by joining healthy tissue together.
  • Radiation works by aiming strong rays or particles to destroy cancer cells in the body while aiming to preserve healthy cells.
  • Chemotherapy are powerful drugs that work to slow down or completely stop cancer cells from increasing. Known as chemo, this treatment can be given by pills, via injection, or intravenously.
  • Targeted therapy are medications that work only on specific parts of cancer cells, while immunotherapy are drugs that work to boost or change a person’s immune system so that it might better attack and eliminate cancer cells. 

 

GI Cancer can encompass the following areas along the digestive tract: 

 

To learn more about our GI offerings and to schedule a colonoscopy or consultation, visit semc.org/GI.