Gastrointestinal cancer

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 develops in part of the bile duct lining. Abnormal cells start to multiply. They can spread into other areas including the gallbladder or pancreas.

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Bowel cancer is also known as colorectal cancer.

• Your bowel is made up of the small and large intestine. It’s part of the body’s digestive system, which connects the stomach to the anus.

• Most bowel cancers develop from small growths inside the colon or rectum called polyps. These look like small spots on the bowel lining or like cherries on stalks. Not all polyps become cancerous.

• A test called a colonoscopy, involving a tube inserted into the bowel, is used to test for polyps.

• If polyps are detected and removed, the risk of bowel cancer is reduced.

 

Bowel cancer is the most common internal cancer in Australia with over 15,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

• Small intestine and anal cancers are relatively rare, each with around 400 new diagnoses a year.

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.

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The liver breaks down the fats in food so that they can be absorbed from the small intestine. It also helps to process fats and proteins – as well as alcohol, some medicines, toxins and poisons. It stores glycogen, made from sugars, to fuel the 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 colon or rectum, is far more common and happens to about 40% 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.

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 develops in part of the bile duct lining. Abnormal cells start to multiply. They can spread into other areas including the gallbladder or pancreas.

Read more

Bowel cancer is also known as colorectal cancer.

• Your bowel is made up of the small and large intestine. It’s part of the body’s digestive system, which connects the stomach to the anus.

• Most bowel cancers develop from small growths inside the colon or rectum called polyps. These look like small spots on the bowel lining or like cherries on stalks. Not all polyps become cancerous.

• A test called a colonoscopy, involving a tube inserted into the bowel, is used to test for polyps.

• If polyps are detected and removed, the risk of bowel cancer is reduced.

 

Bowel cancer is the most common internal cancer in Australia with over 15,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

• Small intestine and anal cancers are relatively rare, each with around 400 new diagnoses a year.

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.

Read more

The liver breaks down the fats in food so that they can be absorbed from the small intestine. It also helps to process fats and proteins – as well as alcohol, some medicines, toxins and poisons. It stores glycogen, made from sugars, to fuel the 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 colon or rectum, is far more common and happens to about 40% 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.

What does gastrointestinal cancer include?

Large intestine (also known as the large bowel, colon and rectum)

Small intestine (or small bowel)

Anus

Oesophagus

Gallbladder

Liver

Pancreas

Stomach

Treatments we cover

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

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Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

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Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, kills cancer cells. It’s used in the early stages of cancer treatment or after it has started to spread. It can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort from cancer that has spread.

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Chemotherapy is medication that treats your cancer. The drugs kill cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and spreading further.

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Helpful resources

We understand that you may still have some unanswered questions, and we’re here to help you in any way we can. But if you are still seeking answers visit Targeting Cancer for further information about this condition or contact a staff member from a centre near you.