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Gastrointestinal Cancer - Its Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors & Prevention

GI Cancer Overview


Gastrointestinal cancer is cancer of the biliary system, stomach, and other organs of the digestive tract. These include the stomach, biliary system, anus, rectum, liver, colon, large intestine, and small intestine.


Individuals with GI cancer may either display mild or severe symptoms. If you experience unusual symptoms due to it, you must visit a doctor and follow their advice on medications, treatment options, and lifestyle modifications.



Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Cancer



Individuals with GI cancer may not exhibit any symptoms in the initial stages. The majority of them show symptoms when they start developing complications due to it. In this condition, they show the following common symptoms:


  • Loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, and tiredness
  • Abdominal inflammation (swelling)
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Yellowing of the skin and the eye (Jaundice)
  • Digestive issues
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Altered bowel habits (narrow or incontinence)
  • Dark stool or stool with blood
  • Pain or cramp in the abdomen



What Causes Gastrointestinal Cancer?


Though it is still not clear as to what causes gastrointestinal cancer, studies have shown that it occurs due to the mutation of the cells of the organs that constitute the gastrointestinal tract. When these cells start growing after a mutation, they take the form of a tumour which may reach out to the other organs.


Mutated cells can lead to several abnormalities. The mutation and abnormal growth of cells can occur due to several environmental risk factors, smoking, obesity, and infections.



What are the Different Types of Gastrointestinal Cancer?


Gastrointestinal cancer involves the digestive tract and all its organs. As a result, the cancerous growth of the cells of any one of the organs due to mutation can be termed GI cancer. Its different forms include the following:


  • Gastric cancer (stomach cancer)
  • Small intestine cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Anal cancer



Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal Cancer


The risk factors due to which individuals develop gastrointestinal cancer may differ from one individual to the other. These may range from a poor diet to obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle and addiction involving alcohol or smoking can also play a role in causing the cancerous growth of cells. Sometimes genetics also contribute to the cancer of the organs of the gastrointestinal tract. Other risk factors of GI include the following:


  • The growth of polyps in the stomach or colon
  • Genes from the parents with a history of GI
  • Surgery in the organs of the digestive system
  • Previous surgery for GI or any other form of cancer
  • The consumption of alcohol
  • Gastritis
  • Smoking
  • Stomach cancer (H. Pylori infection)
  • Liver cancer (Hepatitis A or B)



Diagnosis and Prevention of Gastrointestinal Cancer


The treatment of GI cancer is straightforward when detected at an early stage. It helps a doctor start the treatment procedure even before an affected individual starts displaying or exhibiting the symptoms of cancer. For detecting cancer in the colon or rectum, screening tests are essential.


A doctor may also use other screening tools, such as a colonoscopy, to confirm GI cancer in an individual. If you experience one or multiple symptoms of GI, the best thing you can do is see your doctor. They will examine your body and conduct other tests or recommend that you undergo certain tests in a lab to decide on a suitable course of action for the treatment of cancer.


If your healthcare professional detects gastrointestinal cancer after the screening, they will suggest you a solution depending on the stage of GI cancer and the test results. In most cases, surgery is the best solution to prevent complications due to cancer. You may need to undergo surgery, depending on the part of the gastrointestinal tract affected by GI cancer.


You can prevent GI cancer by ensuring the following:

  • Limiting the consumption of alcohol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising regularly or engaging in a physical activity
  • Taking a balanced diet
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle



Modifications after a Surgical Treatment of Gastric Cancer, Oesophageal Cancer & Pancreatic Cancer



Gastric cancer, oesophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer are some common forms of GI cancer. To treat oesophageal cancer, your doctor will operate the food pipe of your body and replace it with an artificial pipe. They will try to find out the stage of GI cancer and depending on their understanding, they will attach a food pipe to the stomach or the colon, or the intestine. However, contrary to the common perception that it will affect your quality of life, it will enhance the quality of your life index. To help you with it, your doctor will advise you to eat food multiple times in small quantities and at regular intervals instead of taking a heavy meal at once. Regular exercise and follow-up with your doctor will help you live a normal life after your oesophageal surgery.


In gastric cancer surgery, your doctor will replace your stomach with a 200-500 ml pouch. Because the pouch will be smaller in size than the size of your stomach, altering food habits will be necessary for you. For instance, you will need to take a high-calorie or high-protein diet. Besides, your doctor will also suggest ways to overcome the deficiency of vitamins, iron, and calcium.


Pancreatic surgery is a major surgery comparable to surgery on the liver. In such a surgery, your doctor may either remove the pancreas or the bowel. You will need to make certain dietary modifications to live a normal life after undergoing pancreatic surgery.


Dr. Anand Prakash
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