What is Gastrointestinal Cancer?
Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer is a term for the group of cancers that affect the digestive system. Gastrointestinal cancers begin when the cells lining one or more of the organs in the digestive tract mutate and begin to grow, producing tumors and sometimes spreading to the lymph nodes and other organs.
Types of Gastrointestinal Cancer
Gastrointestinal cancer affects the organs of the digestive tract. Gastrointestinal cancers include:
- Esophageal cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Small intestine cancer
- Stomach cancer (gastric cancer)
- Colorectal Cancers (Anal cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer)
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Symptoms may not appear in the early stages of gastrointestinal cancer. As a result, gastrointestinal cancers are often identified in screenings before any symptoms are experienced, or they are diagnosed after they have advanced to the point of causing symptoms at a more serious stage.
When gastrointestinal cancer does cause signs and symptoms, they may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Bloody or very dark stool
- Changes in bowel habits
- Digestive problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Tiredness, weakness, unplanned weight loss, or loss of appetite
Please remember that these signs and symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer. If you experience any symptoms that worry you, be sure to speak to your physician.
RISK FACTORS & PREVENTION
Gastrointestinal cancer risk factors vary for each type. A combination of lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, poor diet, or heavy alcohol use, as well as family history, contribute to the vast majority of gastrointestinal cancers.
There is no sure way to prevent cancer, which is why detecting cancer early is the most important way to prevent severe disease. Screening tests, like colonoscopies, often catch diseases before symptoms develop and can diagnose gastrointestinal cancer in early, highly treatable stages. Talk with your physician about options and if/when you should start screening.
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