Regional Gastrointestinal Consultants

Gastrointestinal Bowel Cancer

Gastrointestinal Bowel Cancer

Gastroinestinal Bowel Cancer


Gastro-Intestinal (GI) cancer is a term for the group of cancers that affect the digestive system. This includes cancers of the esophagus, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, bowel (large intestine or colon and rectum), and anus. GI cancer is the most common form of cancer, and does not discriminate between men and women. Below is more information about types of GI cancer.

Bowel, Small Intestine and Anal Cancers

Bowel cancer is sometimes known as colorectal cancer. The bowel is part of the body’s digestive system, which connects the stomach to the anus.  Together the large colon (large intestine) and rectum are known as the bowel. Bowel cancer is a diseased growth that usually develops inside the large bowel. Most bowel cancers develop from small growths inside the colon or rectum called polyps, which 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 (or colorectal) 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

Gallbladder cancer is cancer of the biliary tract which is quite rare in Western societies but not uncommon in Asia-Pacific countries including Australia, Korea and Japan. In 2011, 771 Australians were diagnosed with biliary tract cancer, with half the cancers found in the gall bladder and the other half in the biliary tree.

Stomach Cancer, GIST and NETs

The stomach is a muscular sack-like organ that receives and stores food from the esophagus. Once the food is broken down, it is passed from the stomach to the small bowel, where nutrients begin to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Most stomach cancers develop in cells that line the mucosa and are called adenocarcinoma of the stomach.  Stomach cancer (also known as gastric cancer) develops slowly – it may take many years before any symptoms are felt.

Liver Cancer

The liver is a key organ in the body.  It produces bile, which breaks down the fats in food so that they can be absorbed from the bowel. The liver helps process fats and proteins, some of which are essential for blood clotting. The liver stores glycogen which is made from sugars to fuel the body. It also helps to process alcohol, some medicines, toxins and poisons to remove them from the body. These are cancers that arise from liver cells that have become malignant. In addition to these people, there are those who have secondary liver cancers – originating from cancers from other organs such as the colon or rectum spreading (metastasizing/metastasis) to the liver.

Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus is the food pipe that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. The esophagus has three main sections – the upper, middle and lower. Cancer can develop anywhere along the length of the esophagus.

Glands in the wall of the esophagus produce mucus to help food slide down more easily when swallowing. These glands can become cancerous to produce adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, which is the most common type of cancer seen in Western countries (the other most common type is squamous cell carcinoma).

Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is a thin, lumpy gland that lies between the stomach and spine. It is about 13 cm long and is joined by a special duct (the pancreatic duct) to the first part of the small bowel (called duodenum). The pancreas plays two major roles in the body:  to produce insulin, which controls the amount of sugar in the blood; and to produce enzymes, which help in food digestion.

Pancreatic cancer begins in the lining of the pancreatic duct. It spreads into the body of the pancreas before moving into the blood vessels and nerves around the pancreas, obstructing the bile duct. Cancer that develops in the pancreas may also spread via the blood or the lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

If diagnosed early, cancerous tumors in the pancreas are usually removed by surgery. However, this is not always possible as the cancer is often detected after it has spread from the pancreas to outlying tissues and organs.


The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and don’t necessarily make you feel ill. However, it’s worth trying simple treatments for a short time to see if they get better.

More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have one of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – going more often, with looser stools and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the stools without other piles (hemorrhoids) symptoms – this makes it unlikely the cause is hemorrhoids
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss
  • Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.

In some cases, bowel cancer can stop digestive waste passing through the bowel. This is known as a bowel obstruction. Symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include:

  • intermittent, and occasionally severe, abdominal pain – this is always provoked by eating
  • unintentional weight loss – with persistent abdominal pain
  • constant swelling of the tummy – with abdominal pain
  • vomiting – with constant abdominal swelling


Treatment for GI cancer will depend on the type of cancer, the stage or its development, and other health factors. Treatment commonly includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Also, treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread.

Surgery is usually the main treatment for bowel cancer, and may be combined with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or biological treatments, depending on your particular case. If it’s detected early enough, treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it from coming back. Unfortunately, a complete cure isn’t always possible and there’s sometimes a risk that the cancer could recur at a later stage.

A cure is highly unlikely in more advanced cases that can’t be removed completely by surgery. However, symptoms can be controlled and the spread of the cancer can be slowed using a combination of treatments.

If colon cancer is at a very early stage, it may be possible to remove just a small piece of the lining of the colon wall, known as local excision.

If the cancer spreads into muscles surrounding the colon, it’s usually necessary to remove an entire section of your colon, known as a colectomy. There are three ways a colectomy can be performed:

  • an open colectomy – where the surgeon makes a large cut (incision) in your abdomen and removes a section of your colon
  • a laparoscopic (keyhole) colectomy – where the surgeon makes a number of small incisions in your abdomen and uses special instruments guided by a camera to remove a section of colon
  • robotic surgery – a type of keyhole surgery where the surgeon’s instruments guide the robot, which removes the cancer


We recommend that people experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms do not attempt self-treatment. With many medications being available over the counter, and numerous do-it-yourself online unqualified remedy recommendation, it is natural to consider treating yourself but we highly recommend against this.

If you are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms you may have a more significant issue than you would expect from the sometimes muted or infrequent symptom you may be experiencing. It is important to keep in mind that is you are having gastrointestinal symptoms or concerns it is best see a doctor to have those symptoms diagnosed and any conditions treated. Also, it is worth noting, that if health conditions do exist, the earlier they are diagnosed and treated, the greater the probability will be to successfully eliminate or manage a present condition, in fact successful outcomes will increase significantly with early detection.

If you have gastrointestinal concerns or are experiencing any gastrointestinal symptoms, please contact us promptly to schedule a consultation with a physician.


The information on this website is to provide general information. In no way, does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a best in class physician regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today at (215) 321-4700 to schedule a consultation.