Gastrointestinal Cancers FAQs

What is gastrointestinal cancer?

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer is a term used for the group of cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract and other organs that are contained within the digestive system, including the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, colon, rectum, anus, liver, biliary system, and small intestine.

Type of GI cancers include:

What are the risk factors for GI cancers?

Risk factors for gastrointestinal cancers vary among the different types. Some known general risk factors may include:  

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • A family history of GI cancer
  • Having an inherited gene mutation that is known to increase your risk
  • History of other conditions such as type II diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), Crohn’s disease, chronic acid reflux, cirrhosis, and chronic viral hepatitis B or C

What are the symptoms of GI cancers?

Symptoms of GI cancers can vary depending on the type of cancer. Some warning signs may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in stool color
  • Blood in the stool
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Heartburn
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling bloated
  • Problems swallowing
  • Loss of appetite

Are GI cancers preventable?

Cancer prevention is an action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. While there is no guarantee that you will not develop cancer, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Making positive lifestyle changes (avoiding controllable risk factors) and visiting your doctor regularly for preventative screening are ways you can help lower your risk.

What should I ask my doctor about GI cancers?

Some important questions you may want to ask your doctor may include:

  • What GI cancers can I be screened for? When and how often should I be screened?
  • I have a family history of GI cancer. Should I consider genetic testing or screening at an early age?
  • If I am diagnosed with a type of GI cancer, should my family members consider genetic testing or earlier screenings?
  • What tests are done to determine if I have a GI cancer?
  • What treatment options are available for my specific type of GI cancer?