Gastrointestinal cancer is cancer that affects the organs in the digestive system, including the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, small and large intestine, anus and rectum. It is characterised by the uncontrolled growth of normal cells that make up the digestive tract.
The exact cause of gastrointestinal cancer is not clear. However, certain risk factors such as excessive alcohol intake, smoking, advanced age, diet rich in animal fat and salt, poorly preserved food and obesity may increase your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer.
Gastrointestinal cancer significantly impacts your quality of life. It not only affects you physically, but also emotionally. Pain, fatigue, stress and the side effects of treatment become a part of your life.
Symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer may include abdominal pain, discomfort or tenderness, change in shape, frequency or consistency of bowels, blood in stool, bloating, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.
Dr. Shakov diagnoses gastrointestinal cancer by performing a thorough physical examination and reviewing your medical history. Certain tests may be ordered to assist and confirm the diagnosis, which includes:
- Blood tests: The tests include full blood count and tumor marker tests.
- Upper endoscopy: Upper endoscopy is a procedure in which a long, thin flexible tube with a tiny camera is passed through your mouth and down your throat to examine the lining of the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum.
- Faecal test: Faecal samples are examined under the microscope for abnormalities.
- Barium swallow: You are given a liquid that contains barium to swallow. X-ray imaging can detect this barium, which coats the walls of the oesophagus and stomach, making abnormalities visible more clearly.
- Biopsy: A small sample of tissue is removed and examined under the microscope for abnormal cells.
- Colonoscopy: A colonoscope, a long narrow tube with a camera is inserted from the rectum to examine your colon.
These tests help identify the location and stage (stage 0 to stage 4, in order of severity) of cancer, which is important for designing the treatment plan.
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, location, your age and general health. Several treatment options are available for treating gastrointestinal cancers. The standard approaches include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and target therapy.
- Surgical procedures vary depending upon the size and site of the cancer. Some of the common surgeries include:
- Fulguration: use of electric current to kill tumor cells
- Cryosurgery: involves freezing the cancer cells to destroy them
- Resection: removal of the cancerous growth
- Radio frequency ablation: use of high energy radio waves to kill cancer cells
- Radiation therapy is a procedure where high-energy rays are targeted at the cancer cells to destroy them.
- Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer drugs given intravenously (through the veins) or orally (by mouth). This type of treatment is extremely useful in cases where the cancer has spread to different parts of the body. These drugs work against the cells that divide quickly; thereby, slowing down the growth of cancer.
- Target therapy stops new blood vessels from developing in the cancer cells. With no blood supply, the growth of cancer cells slow down.