About Gastrointestinal Cancer
The gastrointestinal tract is a 25-foot-long pathway of hollow organs that extends from the mouth to the anus. Gastrointestinal cancer affects the gastrointestinal tract and other organs that are part of the digestive system, which include the anus, biliary system, colon, esophagus, liver, pancreas, rectum, small intestine, and stomach. Abnormal cell growth along any part of the gastrointestinal tract or any of the associated digestive tract organs can lead to a tumor or cancer. Gastrointestinal cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting both men and women in the United States but is typically very treatable by a gastrointestinal cancer specialist.
Types of Gastrointestinal Cancer
- Anal cancer
- Biliary tract cancer
- Colorectal/Colon cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Gastric/stomach cancer
- Gastrointestinal stomal tumor (GISTs)
- Liver cancer
- Neuroendocrine tumors
- Pancreatic cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Small intestine cancer
Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Cancer
Often symptoms are not present until the cancer has become more advanced. Symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer also depend on the type of cancer present. Patients with esophageal cancer may experience difficulty swallowing whereas those with stomach cancer may notice ulcer-like symptoms, such as indigestion, loss of appetite, bloating, or pain. Liver cancer and pancreatic cancer can also lead to abdominal pain, and colorectal cancer often causes unexplained weight loss, changes in bowel function, and bleeding.
Risk Factors for Gastrointestinal Cancer
Researchers have found several factors that can increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer, but it’s not yet clear what exactly causes the cancer.
Common risk factors for gastrointestinal cancers include:
- Age: Though gastrointestinal cancers can occur at any age, they usually affect those over the age of 50.
- Health history: Gastrointestinal cancers are associated with a history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel disease.
- Personal history: Obesity, lack of physical activity or regular exercise, poor diet, diets high in animal protein, saturated fats, or calories, diets low in fiber, smoking, and alcohol consumption may increase your risk for gastrointestinal cancer.
Treating Gastrointestinal Cancer at UT Health Austin
Treatment requires accurate diagnosis and a care plan tailored to the specific type of tumor, the tumor’s location, and the overall needs of the patient. The different behavior of different tumor types helps drive decisions about treatment, which may include combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Care Team Approach
At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncofertility specialists, onco-psychiatrists, genetic counselors, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more as well as other members of the CaLM Care Team who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.