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Digestive or gastrointestinal cancers affect the digestive system and are among the most common forms of cancer. They also can be among the most deadly. Colon cancer, for example, is the third most common cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Although gastrointestinal cancer can be serious, screening and early diagnosis can play a large role in improving treatment outcomes.
Some people use numbers called statistics to figure out their chances of getting cancer. Or they use them to try to figure out their chances of dying from cancer. Because no 2 people are alike, statistics can’t be used to predict what will happen to one person. The statistics below describe large groups of people. They do not take into account a person's own risk factors, such as family history, behaviors, or cancer screenings. If you have questions, talk with your healthcare provider.
Here are some statistics about colorectal cancer:
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer (excluding skin cancer) in men and women combined.
About 143,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2015. This includes about 93,000 people diagnosed with colon cancer and about 40,000 people diagnosed with rectal cancer.
For the average person, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20 (5%). But this risk can be higher for people with certain risk factors.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death when men and women are looked at separately. It is the second leading cause when men and women are combined.
About 50,000 people were expected to die from colorectal cancer in 2015.
Source: American Cancer Society (ACS)
Colon cancer is cancer that starts in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (end of the colon). This type is also referred to as "colorectal cancer".
Esophageal cancer is cancer that develops in the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The esophagus, located just behind the trachea, is about 10 to 13 inches in length and allows food to enter the stomach for digestion. The wall of the esophagus is made up of several layers and cancers generally start from the inner layer and grow out.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 17,990 Americans will be newly diagnosed with esophageal cancer during 2013, and about 15,210 deaths are expected.
No one knows exactly what causes esophageal cancer. At the top of the esophagus is a muscle, called a sphincter, that releases to let food or liquid go through. The lower part of the esophagus is connected to the stomach. Another sphincter muscle is located at this connection that opens to allow the food to enter the stomach. This muscle also works to keep food and juices in the stomach from backing into the esophagus. When these juices do back up, reflux, commonly known as heartburn, occurs.
Long-term reflux can change the cells in the lower end of the esophagus. This condition is known as Barrett's esophagus. If these cells are not treated, they are at much higher risk of developing into cancer cells.
There are 2 main types of esophageal cancer. The most common type, known as adenocarcinoma, develops in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus, near the opening of the stomach. It occurs in just over half of the cases.
The other type, called squamous cell carcinoma, grows in the cells that form the top layer of the inner lining of the esophagus, known as squamous cells. This type of cancer can grow anywhere along the esophagus.
Treatment for both types of esophageal cancer is similar.
Often, there are no symptoms in the early stages of esophageal cancer. Symptoms do not appear until the disease is more advanced. The following are the most common symptoms of esophageal cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Difficult or painful swallowing. A condition known as dysphagia is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer. This gives a sensation of having food lodged in the chest, and people with dysphagia often switch to softer foods to help with swallowing.
Pain in the throat or back, behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
Severe weight loss. Many people with esophageal cancer lose weight unintentionally because they are not getting enough food.
Hoarseness or chronic cough that does not go away within two weeks
Blood in stool or black-looking stools
The symptoms of esophageal cancer may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
There is no routine screening examination for esophageal cancer; however, people with Barrett's esophagus should be examined often because they are at greater risk for developing the disease.
The following factors can put an individual at greater risk for developing esophageal cancer:
Age. The risk increases with age. In the U.S., most people are diagnosed at 55 years of age or older.
Gender. Men have more than a 3 times greater risk of developing esophageal cancer than women.
Tobacco use. Using any form of tobacco, but especially smoking, raises the risk of esophageal cancer. The longer tobacco is used, the greater the risk, with the greatest risk among persons who have indulged in long-term drinking with tobacco use. Scientists believe that these substances increase each other's harmful effects, making people who do both especially susceptible to developing the disease.
Alcohol use. Chronic or long-term heavy drinking is another major risk factor for esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux. Abnormal backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus increases esophageal cancer risk.
Barrett's esophagus. Long-term irritation from reflux, commonly known as heartburn, changes the cells at the lower end of the esophagus. This is a precancerous condition, which raises the risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
Obesity. Being very overweight increases the risk of esophageal cancer. This might be because being overweight puts you at higher risk for reflux.
Diet. Diets low in fruits and vegetables and certain vitamins and minerals can increase risk for this disease.
Other irritants. Swallowing caustic irritants such as lye and other substances can burn and destroy cells in the esophagus. The scarring and damage done to the esophagus can put a person at greater risk for developing cancer many years after ingesting the substance.
Medical history. Certain diseases, such as achalasia, a disease in which the bottom of the esophagus does not open to release food into the stomach, and tylosis, a rare, inherited disease, increase the risk of esophageal cancer. In addition, anyone who has had other head and neck cancers has an increased chance of developing a second cancer in this area, which includes esophageal cancer.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for esophageal cancer may include the following:
Chest X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow). A diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray) is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.
Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (also called EGD or upper endoscopy). A procedure that allows the doctor to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube with a tiny video camera on the end, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the doctor to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as to insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).
Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays. If further imaging is needed, your doctor may order a MRI or PET scan.
Endoscopic ultrasound. This imaging technique uses sound waves to create a computer image of the wall of the esophagus, stomach, and nearby lymph nodes. The endoscope is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus and the stomach. As in standard endoscopy, this allows the doctor to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as insert instruments to remove a sample of tissue (biopsy).
Thoracoscopy and laparoscopy. These methods allow the doctor to examine the lymph nodes and other structures inside the chest or abdomen with a hollow, lighted tube inserted through a small cut in the skin, and remove suspicious areas for further testing.
PET scan. A test that uses a radioactive glucose (sugar) dye to highlight cancer cells and create pictures of the inside of the body. The test is done much like a CT scan. First, the doctor or nurse injects a small amount of radioactive dye into your vein. Then a scanner is moved around your body and takes many pictures of your neck, chest, and abdomen. A computer puts these pictures together to show where the cancer cells are located.
Specific treatment options for esophageal cancer will be determined by your doctor based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent and location of the disease
Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of this disease
Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
Surgery. Two types of surgery are commonly performed for esophageal cancer. In one type of surgery, part of the esophagus and nearby lymph nodes are removed, and the remaining portion of the esophagus is reconnected to the stomach. In the other surgery, part of the esophagus, nearby lymph nodes, and the top of the stomach are removed. The remaining portion of the esophagus is then reconnected to the stomach.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the entire body.
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill or shrink cancer cells.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) or other laser therapies. In these treatments, an endoscope with a laser on the end is used to destroy cancer cells on or near the inner lining of the esophagus.
Sometimes, several of these treatments may be combined to treat esophageal cancer.
Esophageal cancer is a malignant (cancerous) tumor of the esophagus, the muscular tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach.
Many types of tumors can form in the liver, both benign (noncancerous)and malignant (cancerous). The most common type of malignant liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.
Cancer is when cells in the body change and grow out of control. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs them, and die when your body does not need them any longer.
Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow even though your body doesn't need them. In most cancers, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. If cancer cells are in the body long enough, they can grow into (invade) nearby areas. They can even spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in your pancreas. In this cancer, normal cells in the pancreas undergo a series of changes. This can eventually lead to excess cell growth and the formation of tumors.
The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It’s about 6 inches long. One end is wide and is called the head. The middle is called the body. The narrow end is called the tail. The pancreas is made up of two main types of cells.
The exocrine pancreas is made up of cells that make digestive juices. These help your body break down foods. Most pancreatic cancers start in this part of the pancreas. Pancreatic juices contain chemicals called enzymes that help you digest food. The pancreas releases these juices when during meals. The juices enter your intestine through tubes called ducts. The main pancreatic duct is at the head of the pancreas. It joins the common bile duct which comes from the liver and gallbladder. The juices from the pancreas mix with other substances from the liver and gallbladder. The merged ducts open into the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). In the duodenum, the juices help break down fats, sugars, and proteins from the food you eat.
The endocrine pancreas makes hormones that are released into the blood. They help control how your body works. The pancreatic endocrine cells are arranged in small clumps called islets of Langerhans. They make many hormones, including insulin and glucagon. These hormones help your body use and store the energy created from the food you eat. A small number of all pancreatic cancers start in endocrine cells.
Here’s an overview of the types of cancer that can start in the pancreas:
Adenocarcinomas. These exocrine cancers start in cells with glandular properties, or cells that secrete. The majority (more than 95%) of pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas. This is usually what’s meant by the term pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). These tumors, also known as islet cell tumors, start in endocrine cells in the pancreas. There are many types of pancreatic NETs. They can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).
Other types of cancer that can start in the pancreas are much less common. They include acinar cell carcinomas, adenosquamous carcinomas, and squamous cell carcinomas. They also include signet ring cell carcinomas and giant cell tumors.
Pancreatic cancer often grows within the pancreas for a long time before it causes any symptoms. If the cancer grows outside the pancreas, it often goes into the nearby bile ducts and lymph nodes in your belly (abdomen). In some cases, it spreads to other nearby areas. Pancreatic cancer may also spread to distant parts of the body. These can include your liver or lungs.
When pancreatic cancer spreads to another part of the body, it’s not considered a new cancer. For instance, if it spreads to your liver, it’s not considered liver cancer. It’s called metastatic pancreatic cancer. It’s still treated like pancreatic cancer.
If you have questions about pancreatic cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can help you understand more about this cancer.
There are two types of pancreatic tumors - endocrine and exocrine. Exocrine tumors are more common and are more likely to be malignant or cancerous. Endocrine tumors are also known as islet cell tumors and are usually benign.
The most common type of stomach cancer is called adenocarcinoma, which starts from cell types found in the lining of the stomach.
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