Gastrointestinal cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer, consisting of a complex array of disorders and diseases. The causes of these cancers vary, but include risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, aging, viral and bacterial infections, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity.
The most common gastrointestinal cancers are oesophageal, colorectal, stomach, and small intestine cancers. Hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) cancers, which originate in the liver, bile ducts, pancreas, and gallbladder, are also prevalent.
Pancreatic cancer is more commonly seen in older individuals and liver cancer is dependent on where the tumor starts and the type of cells involved. Bile duct cancer, or cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare type of cancer that occurs due to abnormal cell growth in the bile ducts, which carry bile for the breakdown of fats in food.
The treatment strategy for GI and HPB cancer depends on various factors such as the cancer's location, stage, and aggressiveness. The physician takes into account the patient's overall health and preferences while devising a treatment plan.
The primary aim of surgery for GI cancer is to eliminate cancerous tissue along with a margin of healthy tissue. There are two types of surgeries, curative and palliative, which are used to treat GI cancer. Curative surgery involves removing tumors along with nearby lymph nodes, while palliative surgery is performed to alleviate symptoms.
Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells, and it works by traveling throughout the body to attack cancer cells that have spread beyond the original site. It can be administered before surgery to shrink the tumor, making it easier to remove, or after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. Combining chemotherapy with radiation therapy is also common.
Radiation therapy is a treatment that utilizes high-energy beams to eradicate cancer cells. These beams are generated from a machine that orbits around the patient as they lie on a table. In cases where surgery cannot remove advanced stomach cancer, radiation therapy is administered to alleviate symptoms such as pain and bleeding caused by an enlarged cancer.
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific vulnerabilities within cancer cells, blocking these weaknesses to induce their death.
Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that enhances the body's immune system to combat cancer. It is utilized for advanced, recurring, or metastatic cancer.