The gastrointestinal (GI) tract starts from the mouth and ends at the anus. GI tract, which is a 25 ft pathway, refers to the group of organs namely the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver, biliary system, rectum and anus. Cancers originating from these organs are collectively known as gastrointestinal cancers.
According to the latest statistical reports, the six most common GI cancers in India are esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer and gallbladder cancer. Less common GI cancers include pancreatic cancer, small intestine cancer, appendix cancer, neuroendocrine tumour, anal cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumour.
The symptoms of these cancers may vary depending on the location from where the tumour originates. It is important to not ignore any GI symptom that persists for more than two weeks – this helps with early detection and timely management of the condition.
At HCG, patients receive the best gastrointestinal cancer treatment in India under the supervision of experienced GI cancer specialists.
Symptoms of gastrointestinal malignancies typically do not appear until the advanced stages. It may also depend on the type of GI cancer. Those with esophageal cancer may experience swallowing difficulties; on the other hand, patients with stomach cancer may have ulcer-like symptoms (e.g., indigestion, bloating and pain, loss of appetite, etc.). Following is the list of common symptoms that are associated with gastrointestinal cancers:
- Abdominal pain, soreness or discomfort
- Changes in bowel habits
- Blood in stool/ rectal bleeding
- Bloated feeling after eating even in smaller quantities
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
Each form of GI cancer has its own set of risk factors. However, in many cases, lifestyle variables may play a role. Obesity, a lack of exercise, smoking, a bad diet, and heavy alcohol consumption are all examples. Patients may also be susceptible to the disease if there is a family history. Other aspects to consider are:
- Hepatitis A or B Infection: Chronic Hepatitis A & B infections can lead to liver cancer formation.
- Helicobacter pylori Infection: Persistent H.pylori infections, if left untreated, may lead to stomach cancer.
- Smoking and Alcohol Consumption: Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol increases the risk of GI cancers.
- Gastritis: Prolonged history of gastritis is also associated with gastrointestinal cancers.
- Obesity: The risk of developing GI cancers is higher among obese people.
- History of Any GI Cancers or Other Cancers: Those who’ve been treated for GI or any cancers in the past also have a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers.
- History of Polyp Growths in the Colon or Stomach: Those who’ve had polyp growths in the colon and stomach region in the past also show a higher risk for GI cancers.
The approach used to diagnose gastrointestinal cancer is entirely dependent on the type of cancer that has been suspected. The following are some of the most frequent approaches for detecting and diagnosing GI cancers:
a. Physical Examination: A physical examination of the body checks for the signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems abnormal. A medical history of the patient’s health habits, as well as previous diseases and treatments, will be obtained.
b. Blood Tests: Blood tests are recommended to screen for abnormalities in the blood that could indicate the presence of GI malignancies.
c. Endoscopy: Endoscopic tests help specialists have a look inside the body with the help of an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a light and a small camera attached.
d. Imaging Tests: To look for abnormal tissue anywhere in the digestive system, imaging studies (MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, or PET scan) are used.
- Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy: These are the procedures that are used to detect colorectal cancer.
- Upper GI endoscopy: This procedure helps in the detection of cancers that arise from the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum in the upper gastrointestinal system.
e. Biopsy: Biopsy is the process of collecting cells or tissues from the area where tumour growth is suspected so that they can be examined under a microscope for signs of cancer. During the endoscopy, a biopsy of the stomach is routinely performed.
HCG has the best stomach cancer specialists in India who are trained to treat multiple GI cancers with result-oriented treatment approaches that lead to positive clinical outcomes.
The type of cancer, stage, and other general health issues are some of the main factors that influence how gastrointestinal cancer is treated. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are common treatment options available for the management of gastrointestinal cancers.
a. Surgery: Surgery is frequently used to treat early-stage GI tumours and those that are easily accessible. Surgeries remove the tumour and a small portion of healthy tissues surrounding it. For gastrointestinal malignancies, surgery is the most common treatment option. GI malignancies can be treated by open, minimally-invasive or even robotic surgeries.
When compared to open surgery, minimally invasive techniques lead to recovery at a faster rate. As a result, patients can return to normal activities or progress to the next step in their treatment plan faster.
Through consistent advancements in the field of cancer care, HCG strives to provide the best gastrointestinal cancer treatment in India.
b. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to reduce the tumour size (called neoadjuvant therapy). This method may allow patients with otherwise incurable tumours to undergo surgery. It may also be administered after the surgery in order to kill the cancer cells that may have survived the surgery.
If the cancer has advanced to the lymph nodes or has migrated to other parts of the body, chemotherapy is administered to delay the disease progression and relieve the symptoms.
Some GI tumours may potentially be treated with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), a unique chemotherapy method. After all known tumours have been removed, HIPEC is administered wherein heated chemotherapy drugs are sent directly into the abdominal cavity, where it enters the diseased tissue directly.
c. Targeted Therapy: Drugs that target the tumour’s specific genes or proteins, as well as the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival, are used in targeted therapy.
d. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy could be administered both internally and externally. Often radiation therapy is administered in combination with other treatment modalities for better treatment response.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are gastrointestinal cancers treatable?
Yes, gastrointestinal cancers are treatable as there are many treatment options available today even for cancers that are in advanced stages.
However, it is important not to ignore any GI symptoms that last for more than two weeks and immediately seek medical attention. This supports early detection and timely treatment.
2. How common are GI cancers in India?
Esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer and gallbladder cancer are some of the common GI cancers among men and women in India.
GI cancers contribute to approximately 20% of the country’s total cancer burden.
3. Why are GI cancers often diagnosed in advanced conditions?
The signs and symptoms associated with GI cancers are similar to those of less severe GI conditions. Therefore, people tend to ignore the signs and symptoms they witness. This leads to delayed diagnosis and eventually poor outcomes. Therefore, it is important for anyone to not ignore symptoms that are associated with the GI tract.
4. Is surgery the best option for GI cancers?
Surgery is one of the main lines of treatment for GI cancers. However, it might not be recommended for all GI cancer patients. Sometimes, GI tumours are hard to access or are inoperable; in such cases, doctors may have to opt for other treatment options, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and/or radiation therapy.