Newly Diagnosed with Gastrointestinal Cancer
You've Been Diagnosed with Gastrointestinal Cancer. Now What?
A gastrointestinal cancer diagnosis can be confusing and overwhelming, leaving you with a lot of questions. We aim to address many of your questions directly, preparing you for your first appointment with an oncologist.
We hope this guide will answer some of your questions about gastrointestinal (GI) cancers and treatment.
What Kind of Doctor Handles Gastrointestinal Cancer?
If your primary care physician, or PCP, believes you may have gastrointestinal cancer, he or she will refer you to a medical oncologist. Oncology is the study of cancer, and oncologists are specially trained to handle GI and other cancers.
When you work with an oncologist, he or she provides you with a diagnosis and consults with a team of knowledgeable professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan. Your team may include several cancer specialists, including:
- Radiation oncologist
- Genetic counselor
- Surgical oncologist
- Other cancer care specialists who understand GI cancers
Your oncologist may recommend surgery, but some cases may benefit from a different treatment approach. You will not know your individualized treatment plan until you meet with an oncologist.
What Kind of Gastrointestinal Cancer Do I Have?
Several types of gastrointestinal cancer may affect your GI tract. These are cancers that impact your digestive system, which includes your esophagus, stomach, liver, and colon. Gastrointestinal cancers include:
- Anal Cancer - This disease affects the tissue of the anus and is often related to HPV.
- Colon or Rectal Cancer - Also known as colorectal cancer, is cancer that affects the lining of the colon or rectum. This cancer develops in the form of polyps.
- Esophageal Cancer - This type of cancer affects the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach.
- Gallbladder Cancer - The gallbladder is a pouch sitting below the liver that stores bile, and it can be affected by cancer.
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) - Gastrointestinal stromal tumors can develop in the GI tract, especially in the stomach and small intestine.
- Liver Cancer - The liver, the organ that detoxifies your body, can develop cancer.
- Pancreatic Cancer - The pancreas is an organ in the digestive system that secretes fluid to aid digestion.
- Stomach Cancer - Cancer of the stomach produces a variety of symptoms that vary from person to person.
- Small Intestine Cancer - Small intestine, also called small bowel cancer, occurs in the small intestine--a long tube that carries digested food between the stomach and the large intestine (colon).
After your cancer care team determines what kind of gastrointestinal cancer you have, they will develop your treatment plan. If you have questions or concerns about your diagnosis, make sure you speak with your doctor right away.
Gastrointestinal cancers may present at various stages of development. For example, Stage I stomach cancer is less severe than Stage IV stomach cancer.
Which Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
You will discuss treatment options with your cancer care team. Treatments vary and are based on many factors, including the type of cancer you have, the severity of your cancer, and your age. Gastrointestinal cancer treatments include:
Your team at Compass Oncology will evaluate your current health and cancer diagnosis to recommend effective treatment options. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for cancer, so your path may look very different from another patient's path.
Keep Notes & Ask Questions
When you meet with your oncologist, you may feel overwhelmed by all the details you need to keep track of. It can be hard to remember everything, so you should always bring a notebook with you to maintain a sense of organization. Take notes about your appointment, but also use the notebook to track your symptoms, medications, supplements, and other observations. Date your entries to have an accurate picture of your time.
You should also use your notebook to track your questions and thoughts you have in between your doctors' appointments. In the midst of going from appointment to appointment, it becomes very easy to forget important questions you might have.
If keeping a paper notebook simply does not work for you, consider using an electronic method to keep notes, such as your smartphone or a voice recorder. All you have to do is commit to keeping notes and questions somewhere you can access them regularly.
Your First Oncology Appointment
Your first appointment with an oncologist can be stressful, so we recommend bringing a friend or family member with you. Someone who can provide emotional support and take notes for you can be a great relief. They can listen closely to the doctor's information while you might still be processing news. Your support system can also remind you of any questions you wanted to ask that could have slipped your mind.
After Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment
Following treatment for GI cancer, your doctors will continue to monitor you. It is critical that you attend every follow-up appointment and bring up any questions and concerns with your doctor. Your doctor will check you over for any side effects of treatment and ensure that you receive all necessary follow-up treatments. You may also be set up with a dietician so that you can address any new dietary concerns that arise with your condition.
Should I Get a Second Opinion?
It is important that you feel confident about your gastrointestinal cancer diagnosis. Many patients do opt for a second opinion before they undergo any treatment plan. Compass Oncology provides second opinions for GI cancer and any related treatments.
Not sure if insurance will cover a second opinion assessment? Contact your insurance provider to ensure that your second opinion coverage is verified.
You can schedule a second opinion with our physicians at one of our Portland-Vancouver offices. Our office locations offer convenience and comfort. Call us today to schedule an appointment.
You Are Not Alone at Compass Oncology
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult, and you may feel alone at first. You aren't. Many people are going through very similar experiences.
The cancer care teams at Compass Oncology provide our patients with assistance every step of the way. We also provide patients with tips and helpful information to get them through their gastrointestinal cancer journey. Community resources are also available to help you through the days ahead.
Visit our Patient Resource Page for additional information about cancer diagnosis and treatment.