Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers start in the gastrointestinal tract, the part of your body which digests food, pulls nutrients into the rest of your body, and eliminates waste. GI cancers include those of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon, rectum, and anus. When doctors talk about treating these cancers, they also will talk to you about ways to be sure you can continue to eat, digest food, and eliminate waste.
The UMMC Cancer Institute GI care team includes surgeons, gastroenterologists, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, genetic counselors, wound specialists, nurses, social workers, dietitians, and others.
Team members meet as a group each week to review imaging, pathology, and other matters unique to each patient. Together, they consider and discuss a patient's type of cancer, how advanced it is, and other conditions or personal matters that may impact treatment recommendations. Members follow National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines in developing treatment plans.
This team also includes a coordinator who helps guide patients through the ins and outs of cancer treatment and coordinates their initial visit.
Contact the coordinator to schedule appointments or ask questions beforehand. We’ll work to schedule all of your appointments at the same time to make your care easier and more convenient. Most services will be at the Cancer Institute in the Jackson Medical Mall, but we also provide cancer care on the main campus at University Hospital and the University Physicians Pavilion.
Not every kind of GI cancer can be discovered through regular screening, but some can be caught early. Most medical experts strongly recommend colonoscopies to detect colon and rectal cancer and digital rectal exams to detect anal cancer. Additional screenings may be recommended for people with additional risk factors such as family history.
UMMC offers the leading-edge technology and treatment for GI cancers, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials, when appropriate.
Cancer can take an emotional toll on you and your family, and our job is to help you through it. Whether you need financial assistance, advice, counseling, referral to a support group, or any other social or medical services, your nurse coordinator can quickly connect you to the care you’re looking for.
Before treatment begins, the team determines the type of cancer and how far it has progressed, a process known as staging. If the cancer has moved beyond the point where it started, doctors say it has metastasized. How advanced the cancer is and how far it has spread will help determine the recommended treatment plan.
Definitions provided by the website of the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov).
Cancer that forms in tissues of the anus. The anus is the opening of the rectum (last part of the large intestine) to the outside of the body.
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A small, fingerlike pouch that sticks out from the cecum (the first part of the large intestine near the end of the small intestine). These cancers are very hard to diagnose because they do not cause symptoms until late, and are often found incidentally.
Cancer that forms in the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
Cancer that develops in the colon (the longest part of the large intestine) and/or the rectum (the last several inches of the large intestine before the anus). Colorectal cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Some polyps become cancer over time. Finding and removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer.
Cancer that forms in tissues lining the esophagus (the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach). Two types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that begins in flat cells lining the esophagus) and adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
At UMMC esophageal cancers are treated by either GI surgeons or thoracic surgeons, depending on the location.
The GE junction is the place where the esophagus is connected to the stomach. These cancers usually extend down from the esophagus or up from the stomach.
A slow-growing cancer that forms in cells that make hormones in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (the stomach and intestines). It usually occurs in the small intestine, rectum, or appendix (a small fingerlike pouch of the large intestine).
Neuroendocrine tumors may make higher-than-normal amounts of hormones, which can cause many different symptoms. These tumors may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). These are also called GI carcinoid tumors.
A type of tumor that usually begins in cells in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract, often the stomach. It can be benign or malignant. Also called GIST.
Cancers that arise in the neuroendocrine cells of the pancreas can secrete insulin (insulinoma) or glucagon (glucagonoma) or not secrete any hormones at all. These cancers are treated very differently than regular pancreatic cancer.
The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. There are two kinds of cells in the pancreas. Exocrine pancreas cells make enzymes that are released into the small intestine to help the body digest food. Neuroendocrine pancreas cells (such as islet cells) make several hormones, including insulin and glucagon, that help control sugar levels in the blood. Traditionally pancreatic cancer is limited to the exocrine cancers.
A build-up of mucus in the peritoneal cavity. The mucus may come from ruptured ovarian cysts, from the appendix, or from other abdominal tissues. Mucus-secreting cells may attach to the peritoneal lining and continue to secrete mucus.
Cancer that forms in the tissues of the rectum (the last several inches of the large intestine closest to the anus). Risk factors for colorectal cancer include having a family history of colon or rectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child), or having a personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, or ovary.
A rare cancer that forms in tissues of the small intestine (the part of the digestive tract between the stomach and the large intestine). The most common type is adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
Stomach (gastric) cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lining of the stomach. The stomach is in the upper abdomen and helps digest food.
Almost all gastric cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). Other types of gastric cancer are gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and lymphomas. Infection with bacteria called H. pylori is a common cause of gastric cancer.