What is gastrointestinal cancer
Gastrointestinal cancer is a group of cancers that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and includes cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. Symptoms are frequently related to obstruction of the GI tract or abnormal bleeding. Diagnosis of gastrointestinal cancer is typically confirmed by endoscopy and biopsy of the tumor.
Esophageal cancer (cancer of the esophagus) consists of two main types. Squamous cell carcinoma develops in cells that line the esophagus and can occur at any point along the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma starts in the gland cells and typically occurs in the lower esophagus.
Stomach (gastric) cancer most frequently occurs in the cells that line the stomach, and results in an adenocarcinoma. Other types of cancer that can arise in the stomach include: gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs), carcinoid tumors and lymphomas. GISTs originate in the cells that form the wall of the gastrointestinal tract and are responsible for signaling the GI muscles to contract. GISTs can actually occur at any point along or near the GI tract, but most frequently occur in the stomach and small intestine.
Colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer typically begins with a polyp, or abnormal growth, in the cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum. Not all polyps are cancerous, but tumors can develop in some types of polyps.
How common is gastrointestinal cancer
Of the different tumor types within gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer is the most common. It is estimated that there are 135,430 new cases of colorectal cancer each year in the United States and occurs in men at a slightly higher rate than women.1 Colorectal cancer is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 65-74, but can occur in younger ages. Recently the overall incidence rates of colorectal cancer have been declining dramatically in older age groups, but increasing in younger ages.
Stomach cancer is the second most common type of gastrointestinal cancer. It is estimated that there are 28,000 new cases of Stomach cancer each year in the United States.2 Stomach cancer is more common in men than women and is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 65-74.
Esophageal cancer is the next most common type of gastrointestinal cancer with an estimated 16,940 new cases each year in the United States. Esophageal cancer is much more common in men than women and is also most frequently diagnosed between 65-74 years of age. Esophageal cancer is often diagnosed in later stages of the disease because there are few signs and symptoms.
Risk factors for developing gastrointestinal cancer include: family history, obesity, an unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity. You can lower your risk by doing the following:
- Eating a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Watching your weight
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding tobacco
- Limiting alcohol
Questions regarding your gastrointestinal cancer therapy
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1. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/livibd.html. Accessed 7/10/2017
2. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/livibd.html. Accessed 7/10/2017
What are the symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer
Gastrointestinal cancer may not cause symptoms early on. Symptoms that do occur may be one or more of the following:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool, which may make it look dark
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
The symptoms relate to the organ can include obstruction (leading to difficulty swallowing or defecating), abnormal bleeding or other associated problems.
How is it diagnosed
A variety of screening tests have been used to detect cancer early before it progresses and spreads to surrounding tissue. However, it is important to note that screening tests have risks and can lead to false-positive results. It is important to talk with your doctor about your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer and whether to undergo a screening test. Screening tests for gastrointestinal cancer often require an endoscopy, followed by a tissue biopsy to determine if the tumor is malignant.
Esophageal cancer screening methods can include: esophagoscopy, biopsy, chromoendoscopy or fluorescence spectroscopy. However, there are no recommended screening tests or guidelines for esophageal cancer.
Colorectal cancer screening methods include: high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. Current screening guidelines for colorectal cancer suggest starting at age 50 and continuing until age 75, although individuals at higher risk may need to begin screening at a younger age.
Stomach cancer screening tests include: x-ray imaging using barium photofluorography, upper endoscopy, and serum pepsinogen levels. Currently there are no screening guidelines for Stomach cancer in the United States.
Accredo, a specialty pharmacy for gastrointestinal cancer, dispenses specialty and non-specialty gastrointestinal cancer medications including (but not limited to):
|Cyramza® (ramucirumab)||Eli Lilly|
|Lonsurf® (trifluridine and tipiracil)||Taiho|
|Sutent® (sunitinib malate)||Pfizer|
Accredo also dispenses traditional chemotherapy medications as well as supportive care medications ordered by your prescriber that are not listed above.
Financing Your Care
Financial assistance coordination may be available to help with your medication costs, including manufacturer and community programs. Accredo representatives are available to help find a program that may work for you.
Life-saving specialty medication can be expensive. Learn how the Accredo teams help individuals find ways to afford the medication they need to survive in this video.
There are many organizations that support research and advocacy for gastrointestinal Cancer. See below for a few of those organizations.
Gastrointestinal Cancer Organizations
- Angel Foundation
- Gastric Cancer Foundation
- No Stomach for Cancer
- Colon Cancer Alliance
- Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation
Cancer Support Organizations
There are many organizations that support research and advocacy for cancer. See below for a few of those organizations.
- American Cancer Society
- American Society of Clinical Oncology
- Association of Cancer Online Resources
- Cancer Support Community
- Livestrong Foundation
- National Foundation for Cancer Research
- Prevent Cancer Foundation
- Conquer Cancer Foundation
- Cancer GRACE
- National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network
- Patient Advocate Foundation
Meet the Team
Accredo’s oncology care team is dedicated to serving you and we understand the complexity of your condition. Our specialty-trained clinicians are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer any questions.
Why We Do It
Accredo supports patients with chronic and complex conditions and helps them live their best life. Watch our video to learn why we do what we do for our patients.