Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers | Cancer | Loyola Medicine

Gastrointestinal Cancers

Overview and Facts about Gastrointestinal Cancers

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers are a group of cancers that occur in the gastrointestinal tract. They include:

These cancers affect your digestive health and, as a group, are the most common cancers in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Cancers

Because gastrointestinal cancers cover a wide range of diseases, symptoms vary. However, some that might be common among many of these cancers include:

  • Nausea or vomiting, especially if vomit has blood in it
  • Black, tarry stools or blood in stools
  • Anemia
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Pain in the belly
  • Swelling in the belly
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Trouble swallowing

Tests and Diagnosis of Gastrointestinal Cancers

The first steps in checking for gastrointestinal cancers are a review of your medical history and a physical exam by your doctor. If they find something suspicious, they might perform an upper endoscopy, which involves putting a small tube down your throat to check the condition of your stomach and small intestine.

An endoscopic ultrasound is a procedure that uses sound waves to produce real-time images of the stomach and surrounding areas. A small tube with a transducer slides down your throat so your doctor can use see the interior of your GI system. If your problems originate in your large intestine or rectum, your doctor might order a colonoscopy.

If anything problematic appears during imaging procedures, your doctor will perform a biopsy to test for cancerous tissue.

Causes and Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal Cancers

Age and gender play large roles in the occurrence of gastrointestinal cancers. Men are slightly more likely than women to have one of these diseases, and the average age of diagnosis for gastrointestinal cancers is 67. Smoking, eating a diet high in fats, and being exposed to certain carcinogens are also big risk factors.

Genetics also play a big role, and people with certain inherited conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome, have higher rates of cancer. If you have another gastrointestinal disease—Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, for example—you also have a higher risk of developing a GI cancer.

Treatment and Care for Gastrointestinal Cancers

Treatment for gastrointestinal cancers typically involves a combination of the following procedures:

If you’re worried about GI cancer or have experienced the symptoms mentioned above, make an appointment with your primary care doctor today.