Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers are a major public health issue that rival the incidence of lung, breast and prostate cancers. In fact, taken as a whole, they are the number two cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Both genders and all races and ages are affected. However, there are certain factors that put people at a higher risk for getting a GI cancer. These include:
- Family history
- Eating red meat
- Eating processed or smoked meat
- Being overweight or obese
- A sedentary lifestyle
Although there are symptoms unique to each type of GI cancer, there are some general symptoms that indicate it’s time to seek medical attention. Make an appointment with your primary care provider if you experience trouble swallowing, sudden loss of appetite, persistent abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, blood in stools or change in bowel habits.
There are many types of GI cancers, but here are the four we most commonly diagnose and treat at Edward-Elmhurst Health. View slideshow.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. Getting regular colonoscopies starting at age 50 is the best way to detect it during its earliest, most treatable stages. During the outpatient procedure, a colonscope is inserted into the rectum and a tiny camera at the tip of the tube allows your doctor to view your entire colon and rectum and detect any changes or abnormalities that may indicate cancer is present. Any precancerous polyps can usually be removed during the procedure. If cancer is detected, treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Unlike colorectal cancer, there isn’t a routine screening used to detect the cancer during its earliest stages. Because there usually aren’t any symptoms, this means pancreatic cancer tends to get diagnosed during its later stages. Treatment options are typically selected based on the size of the tumor and its location within the pancreas. This may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of the three.
Although fewer people are being diagnosed with cancer in the main part of the stomach, there are more being diagnosed with cancer at the point where the top of the stomach meets the esophagus. Similar to pancreatic cancer, there are no routine screening tests. Gastric cancer is typically diagnosed after symptoms appear. Treatment is based on the extent of the cancer and typically includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide and is typically found after symptoms appear. But patients who have risk factors, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or Barrett’s esophagus, are monitored closely in case cancer cells develop. Treatment is determined based on the type of cancer cells, stage of cancer and the patient’s overall health, and may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
When it comes to GI cancers, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. Every case is unique and requires a different approach. That’s why it’s best to work with a multidisciplinary care team – one that can take into account every aspect of your care.
Edward-Elmhurst Health uses a team approach, and we have all the elements we need to care for our patients right here at our hospitals. We can coordinate everything from the simplest endoscopies and polyp removals to high-end pancreatic and liver cancer surgeries.
We also offer HIPEC – and are one of the only hospitals in Illinois to offer this cutting-edge treatment that helps patients with advanced cancers in the abdominal cavity – such as the appendix, colon, mesothelioma and ovary – experience better outcomes.