GI cancers: prevention and warning signs

March 20, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer is a term used for more than just stomach cancer. GI cancers make up cancers of the entire digestive system, including cancers of the:

  • Anus
  • Appendix
  • Bile duct
  • Colon
  • Esophagus
  • Gallbladder
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) 
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Rectum
  • Small intestine
  • Stomach (gastric) 

As a group, gastrointestinal cancers are the most common cancers in the United States. Out of the GI cancers, colorectal is the third most common type of cancer in both men and women, and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

What can you do to prevent GI cancer?

Unfortunately, scientists do not know what causes many types of GI cancer, and risk factors can vary among the different types. Some risk factors you can’t control, like increasing age and family history. But others you can control by making lifestyle changes.

Take these steps to lower your risk of developing a GI cancer:

  • Avoid smoking and excessive drinking.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods that are salted, cured or poorly preserved, or high in animal fat.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

Symptoms of GI cancers can be difficult to detect early since many stomach issues can be caused by a virus or ulcer. Preventive screenings, like a colonoscopy, can be beneficial by helping detect precancerous changes in your large intestine or rectum.

Also, be on the lookout for warning signs of GI cancers, including: 

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Abdominal (belly) pain or tenderness
  • Vague discomfort in the abdomen, usually above the navel
  • A sense of fullness in the upper abdomen after eating a small meal
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, with or without blood
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen, bloating
  • Rectal bleeding, blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits, such as frequency, consistency or shape
  • Low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Fatigue

If you have any of these symptoms that seem to be getting worse or don’t go away, talk to your physician. Your symptoms are your body’s way of alerting you that something is wrong. Your doctor can help diagnose and treat your condition.

Explore gastrointestinal services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:

How to make a colonoscopy more comfortable

What it’s like to get a colonoscopy before, during and after

Fecal matters: An at-home alternative to a colonoscopy


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