Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers include a broad category of diseases affecting multiple organs. The goal of early diagnosis
remains paramount for the effective management of these diseases. The incidence of GI cancers tends to increase after the age of 50 and patients may not have many symptoms during the early phase of their illnesses. As gastroenterologists we are involved in the diagnosis of the following cancers:
- Esophageal Cancer – Although its frequency is low, it is the fastest rising cancer in thecountry
- Stomach Cancer – Second most common cancer in the world although its incidence is low in the U.S.
- Small Intestinal & Stromal Cancers – rare tumor category with limited information
- Liver Cancer – One of the most common cancers in patients from Far East Asia and those with cirrhosis
- Pancreatic Cancer – One of the more fatal cancers in the U.S (due to late diagnosis).
- Colo-rectal Cancer – Second most prevalent cancer in the U.S overall.
- Anal Cancer – Primarily induced by a sexually transmitted infectious virus (vaccine available)
Some patients have hereditary predisposition to GI cancers due to their genetic make-up while others may be at increased risk for developing disease do their lifestyles and diet. Rather than waiting for symptoms to develop, effective early diagnosis of GI cancers includes:
- Patients being aware of their family history of cancers
- Individuals being conscientious of their lifestyle choices (smoking, excess weight)
- Patients seeing their physician to discuss their risk factors and have appropriate testing
Although there has been significant research in medicine in understanding the biology of GI cancers over the past 30 years, there still remain challenges in early diagnosis of these diseases. For example wWe lack blood tumor markers for easy screening of the general population. In the past decade, advances in genetics have identified mutations in tissues that have given us better tools in diagnosing a subset of patients with GI cancers based on their hereditary risk profile. However, the vast majority of patients in the population have ‘sporadic’ onset of GI cancers that may be influenced more by their lifestyle, body habitus, age, and dietary habits. Although these traits are sometimes difficult to modify, patients can be ascertained for better risk stratification. Unfortunately, a detailed discussion of cancer prevention and early diagnosis is not always emphasized during patient’s “physical exams”. As such, specialty physicians can assist patients in this process.