Think back to your favorite meal. Maybe it’s your mom’s homecooked food, or from your favorite local eatery. Every bite of food travels through your gastrointestinal system, from your esophagus to your stomach to your intestine, the gastrointestinal system, often known as the GI system, is vital to your digestion and absorbing nutrients for your body.
Unfortunately, cancer can impact every part of the GI system. We're looking at the different types of GI cancers and how a Gastroenterologist can help you prevent them -- or, if necessary, detect and treat them early for the best possible outcome.
Types of GI Cancer
While there are many types of GI cancers, there are some that are most common. They include:
The esophagus is an 8-inch muscular tube that moves food from the mouth to your stomach. Esophageal cancer is the sixth deadliest cancer in the U.S because it can be difficult to find until it is advanced. It is most prevalent in men who smoke and in people who have issues with acid reflux.
The stomach helps to digest and process the nutrients. Cancers here develop slowly and people often don’t notice any symptoms in the early stages. A denocarcinomas is a type of tumor that grows in the stomach lining and makes up about 90 to 95% of cancers in the gastric area. Ongoing H pylori infection and a diet high in salted and processed foods are risk factors in developing stomach cancer.
The colon (also known as the large intestine) breaks down food and absorbs the water you consume. The stomach and small intestine have processed them into waste products that are then passed through to the rectum.
Unfortunately, colorectal cancers are the second leading cause of cancer death in women and the third most common in men. Regular screening for polyps in the intestine can identify these cancers while they can be most easily treated.
The pancreas helps control blood sugar. About 60,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer. Of those, unfortunately, many lose their battle with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
The high death rate is better explained as a percentage. While pancreatic cancer makes up only about 3% of all types of cancer in the United States, it accounts for 7% of all cancer-related deaths.
Risk Factors for GI Cancers
Cancer is a disease where healthy cells malfunction and begin to reproduce haphazardly and rapidly, causing tumors that grow into surrounding tissues. Sometimes it is impossible to understand why some individuals develop cancers and others do not, but doctors do know that there are certain risk factors that should be avoided whenever possible.
- Obesity and diet. Being overweight, or regularly eating less healthy foods like red meat and processed foods, can impact your overall health.
- Genetic mutations. Sometimes you inherit genes that put you at higher risk of cancer. If you have a close family member who has or has had GI cancer, make sure your doctor is aware.
- Age. As you get older, your cells are more likely to malfunction. That's why certain screening tests are recommended as you grow older.
- Having other diseases. You may be at higher risk of esophageal cancer, for instance, if you have a history of reflux.
Risk factors don't mean you will develop cancers, but minimizing their impact can help you feel better and reduce your chances of developing gi cancers.
Symptoms of GI Cancers
Although GI cancers encompass many parts of the body, they have similar symptoms related to the digestive function. These include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding: blood in vomit or bowel movements
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Often these symptoms are common and can be the result of other, less deadly problems. The key to successful treatment is early detection, if you find that you are experiencing these symptoms, it's important to schedule a consultation with us today.
Detecting GI Cancers
Early detection can make the treatment of most types of GI cancers less invasive and more successful. Unfortunately, many GI cancers have vague or mild symptoms at first, which makes it tough to determine if you have them until they are in advanced stages. That's why testing, including endoscopy for upper GI tract issues and colonoscopy for the lower GI tract, are important tools to finding small growths before they grow.
Medical experts recommend that patients over age 45 have a colonoscopy to screen for polyps or abnormalities in the colon or rectum. This test should be repeated every 10 years, or more frequently if you are at higher risk.
What You Can Do Now
What can you do right now to minimize your risk of gastrointestinal system cancers? Start by scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist at Carolina Digestive Health. We can assess your risk factors, recommend and perform any screening tests like a blood test, colonoscopy or endoscopy, and help you to create and maintain a more healthy lifestyle. Contact us today for your appointment.