Gastrointestinal Cancer (GI Cancer) : Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Dr. F. Shah


stomach cancer

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer encompasses a group of malignancies that affect various parts of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, and anus. Early detection and diagnosis are crucial for effective treatment. In this article, we will discuss the signs, symptoms, investigations, associated conditions, and clinical diagnosis of GI cancer, tailored for medical doctors and students.


Section 1: Signs and Symptoms


1.1 Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer may present with symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, unintended weight loss, chest pain, and persistent coughing. Dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing, is often a key indicator.


1.2 Stomach Cancer

Common signs of stomach cancer include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting (sometimes with blood), unintended weight loss, and a feeling of fullness after eating small amounts.


1.3 Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer symptoms may include changes in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation), blood in stool, abdominal pain, and unintended weight loss.


1.4 Liver Cancer

In its early stages, liver cancer may not show noticeable symptoms. However, as it progresses, symptoms like abdominal pain and swelling, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and unexplained weight loss may manifest.


1.5 Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, jaundice, unintended weight loss, and digestive problems.

Section 2: Investigations


2.1 Endoscopy

Endoscopy is a valuable tool for visually inspecting the GI tract. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) examines the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine, while colonoscopy assesses the colon and rectum.


2.2 Imaging Studies

Various imaging techniques like CT scans, MRI, and PET scans are employed to evaluate the extent of the cancer and to detect metastases.


2.3 Biopsy

Tissue samples obtained via endoscopy, laparoscopy, or fine-needle aspiration are crucial for confirming the diagnosis and determining the type of cancer.


Section 3: Associated Conditions


3.1 Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Patients with long-standing IBD, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.


3.2 Chronic Liver Disease

Chronic hepatitis B or C infection, alcoholic liver disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are associated with an elevated risk of liver cancer.


3.3 Familial Syndromes

Conditions like Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) predispose individuals to colorectal cancer.


Section 4: Clinical Diagnosis


4.1 Multidisciplinary Approach

A comprehensive evaluation of GI cancer involves a multidisciplinary team comprising gastroenterologists, oncologists, radiologists, and pathologists.


4.2 Staging

Determining the stage of the cancer (extent of spread) is critical in formulating an appropriate treatment plan.


4.3 Treatment Modalities

Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy, depending on the type, stage, and location of the cancer.

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