Detecting GI Cancer

GI cancer or gastrointestinal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. The term is used for cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract including the esophagus, stomach, biliary system, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.

    The symptoms of GI cancer are complex because the body may or may not display problems. Let's learn more about the symptoms of GI cancer.
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Anorexia or unintended weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anaemia
  • Fever
  • Back pain
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal pain, discomfort and swelling
  • Black vomit or traces of blood in vomit
  • Black stools or traces of blood or mucus in stool
  • Alternate diarrhoea and constipation

Time is of the essence and it is necessary that you identify the above-mentioned problems and visit an expert immediately. Please remember that the symptoms do not confirm GI cancer. It simply shows that something is wrong with your digestive system. However, to diagnose GI cancer accurately and begin medical treatment immediately, surgical gastroenterologists may order a few tests. Let's understand what kind of tests are usually suggested by GI surgeons across India.

1. Blood Tests, including Tumor Marker Tests

Blood tests can help your doctor in making an accurate cancer diagnosis. It can give a clue to the doctor in understanding what's going on with the body. The tests may show cells, proteins and other substances created by cancer in the body. Additionally, specific blood tests may be suggested to understand normal functioning of the organs and to detect possible anomalies. Let's look at the list of blood tests that may be essential for you:

a. Complete Blood Count (CBC): It measures various cells in your blood sample.

b. Blood Protein Testing: It can detect certain abnormal immune system proteins that can be caused by different types of cancers.

c. Tumor Marker Tests: The tests help in diagnosing and detecting tumor cells/markers in the blood. Tumor markers can be found at elevated levels in the body with different types of cancer.

A doctor may suggest the tumor marker test to people with high risk of cancer. However, the test alone is not enough to diagnose GI cancer accurately. There are other tests required for confirmation of gastrointestinal cancer.

2. Ultrasound

The Ultrasound tests includes making use of high-frequency sound waves to manifest the insides of the patient's body. The scan shows movement of the internal organs, such as the stomach, in real time. As the test doesn't make use of X-rays or radiation, it is one of the safest tools to detect GI cancer. It helps in understanding how far the cancer has spread and whether it has affected nearby tissues as well.

3. CT (Computed Tomography) Scan

Doctors may prescribe a CT scan or a CAT scan to find out more about the disease. CT scan includes usage of X-rays to get detailed and comprehensive images of the soft tissues of the organ in question. It shows the organ pretty clearly and can confirm the actual location of the cancer. It not only helps with diagnosis but also aids in determining the cancer stage. It will also help the GI surgeon in ascertaining the course of medical treatment.

4. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) Scan

Similar to CT scans, MRI tests also show the soft tissues of the body and let the doctor know more about the spread of cancer. It means that the test is useful in diagnosis as well as staging the disease. In an MRI scan, the technician will make use of radio waves and magnets instead of X-rays to get a clear idea of the internal organs of the body.

5. PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan

In a few cases, the GI surgeon may suggest a PET scan to understand how the tissues in the GI tract are functioning. This includes using a radioactive tracer to understand the activity of the organs. The test gathers images of how the cells in the GI organs are working in the body. Usually, radioactive materials affect cancer cells more than normal cells. It will make the cancer cells appear brighter during the scan. The test is known to detect a problem even before it shows up on other types of imaging tests. It can also be used for cancer staging.

6. Endoscopy and Biopsy

Upper endoscopy, Esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD is one of the essential tests for detecting stomach cancer and other cancers of GI tract. Your doctor may suggest the test if you have certain symptoms or you are at high risk of getting cancer. The test involves using an endoscope to check the esophagus, stomach and the beginning of the small intestine. On the other hand, ileocolonoscopy is an endoscopic scan of the ileum and the colon.

If the doctor finds any anomalies, biopsies are done to extract tissues from your body. The tissues are sent to the lab for further examination and checked for the existence of GI cancer.

It is possible that the GI cancer is deep within the digestive system and it makes biopsy with the help of endoscopy difficult. In such a situation, the surgical gastroenterologist may take help of endoscopic ultrasound to get a biopsy sample.

In conclusion...

Early detection and accurate diagnosis are essential in saving a patient's life. Some GI cancers show evident symptoms but others may not manifest any signs for a very long time. So, it is essential that you visit a surgical gastroenterologist as soon as you find persistent problems with the GI tract. GI surgeons have enough experience and expertise to read the tests, figure out the spread of the cancer and suggest a future course of treatment.

Are you showing signs of GI cancer? Do not ignore the symptoms and visit a surgical gastroenterologist immediately. Trust the expertise of a GI surgeon in undertaking GI cancer surgery and treating you efficiently.

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