Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer is the name for cancers affecting the digestive system (or GI tract).
Types of gastrointestinal cancers
Bile ducts are part of the digestive system and are the tubes that link the liver and gallbladder to the small bowel. They transport bile, which helps break down the fat in our food.
Bile duct cancer (also called cholangiocarcinoma) develops in part of the bile duct lining. Abnormal cells start to multiply. They can spread into other areas including the gallbladder or pancreas.
Colorectal cancer, can affect any part of the colon or rectum; it may also be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is located. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common. The colon and rectum are parts of the large intestine.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50.
It was estimated that 15,540 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in Australia in 2021.
The chance of surviving colorectal cancer for at least five years, is 70%.
Gallbladder cancer is cancer of the biliary tract, part of the digestive system. It is one of the rarer types of cancer.
- The gallbladder stores bile made in the liver before it’s passed into the small bowel. The bile helps food digestion. It passes through a tube called the common bile duct which connects the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine.
- Gallbladder cancer happens when tissues in the lining of the gallbladder become abnormal and multiply. The most common type is adenocarcinoma – starting in glandular cells in the gallbladder lining.
- Unfortunately, by the time most people are diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, the tumour is often too large to remove surgically or has spread to other areas of the body. This makes it very difficult to treat.
The liver is the largest internal organ of the human body, weighing around 1.5kg in the average adult. It is positioned on the upper right side of the abdomen, just below the rib cage.
The main roles of the liver include:
- removing toxins from the body
- processing food nutrients – breaking down fats and proteins so they can be absorbed from the small intestine
- storing glycogen, made from sugars, to fuel the body
- helping to regulate body
Primary liver cancer is rare. It develops when liver cells become abnormal and form malignant tumours.
Secondary liver cancer, where cancer has spread from another place in the body such as the bowel, is far more common and happens to about 20% of people who have bowel cancer.
The oesophagus is the food pipe that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. It has three main sections – upper, middle and lower. Oesophageal cancer can develop anywhere along the length of the oesophagus.
Along with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, oesophageal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in advanced countries.
- Glands in the wall of the oesophagus produce mucus, which helps your food to go down more easily when you’re swallowing.
- Cancer that develops in the oesophagus is called adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus.
The pancreas is a thin, lumpy gland that lies between the stomach and spine. It’s about 13 cm long and is joined by the pancreatic duct to the first part of the small bowel.
The pancreas does two main things:
- It makes hormones, including insulin to control the amount of sugar in the blood.
- It produces enzymes, which help break down food so the body can digest it.
Pancreatic cancer begins in the lining of the pancreatic duct and can spread into the rest of the pancreas before moving into surrounding blood vessels and nerves. It can obstruct the bile duct leading to jaundice.
Cancer that develops in the pancreas can also spread to other parts of the body via the blood or lymphatic system.
Most stomach cancers develop in the cells in the inner lining of the stomach. Stomach cancers can also be called ‘adenocarcinoma of the stomach’ or ‘gastric cancer’.
This type of cancer develops quite slowly, and it can take years before any symptoms are noticed.
Small bowel cancer (also called small intestine cancer) is an uncommon type of cancer that occurs when cells in the small intestines become abnormal and keep growing and form a mass or lump called a tumour.
Small bowel cancer is rare, with estimates that 823 new cases will be diagnosed in Australia in 2021, with relative 5-year survival rates (depending on stage of diagnosis) of ~66% . It is more likely to be diagnosed in men than women, and in people aged over 60 years.
Radiation therapy kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread.
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