Atrium Health Navicent Specialty Center


Toddler getting an ultrasound

Gastric (stomach) cancer and Pancreatic cancer are relatively rare and when diagnoses are often not resectable. Surgery is the only chance for cure of these aggressive forms of cancer. This type of surgery is very complex and is often only preformed in specialty, such as the Medical Center Navicent Health. Dr. Dale specializes in the treatment of these cancers and has access to a multidisciplinary team of radiation oncologists and medical oncologists who also specialize in treating the types of cancers.

Gastro/Intestinal (GI) cancer is a term for the group of cancers that affect the digestive system. Cancers can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus (the swallowing tube connecting the mouth and the stomach) to the anus. Dr. Dale has specialty training in each of these areas. The primary sites affected in the GI tract which Dr. Dale specializes in include the following:

Understanding Gastric/Intestinal and Why Surgery Isn't Always Possible

Cancers that affect the digestive system are called gastrointestinal or GI. These types of cancer will affect areas of the liver, stomach, colon, rectum, gallbladder, anus, small intestine, bowel area, and the esophagus. Each year, more than 134,490 receive a diagnosis of gastric/intestinal cancer. However, more than 49,190 will die from these cancers annually. The treatment that one receives will depend on the type of cancer they are dealing with, and the stage of its development. The most common forms of treatment are surgical intervention, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Bowel, Small Intestine, and Anal Cancers

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the bowels. The bowels connect the stomach and anus. It is part of the digestive system. The large colon and the rectum are commonly referred to as the bowels. Cancer of this area typically starts within the large bowel. Tumors begin as polyps inside the colon or rectum. Some say they look like small cherries inside the bowel lining. It is possible to have polyps without them being cancerous. During a colonoscopy test, a surgeon places a tube inside the rectum to view the bowels. Here, they will examine the area for polyps. During this test, they remove any polyps and send them off for further evaluation. Once benign polyps are removed, the chance of cancer in the bowel is decreased.

Gallbladder Cancer

Biliary tract cancer is also known as gallbladder cancer. This rare form of cancer often goes undetected until the tumor is too large to be removed surgically. It is often the case that cancer has metastasized by the time it is found. Due to the lack of symptoms, this cancer produces, only 10-30 percent of people are able to have surgery to remove their tumor. The survival rate for gallbladder cancer is extremely low. Only 18 percent of patients will make it beyond five years. If surgery is not an option, chemotherapy is the main form of treatment. There is no specific type of chemotherapy, which has been able to extend life.

Stomach Cancer

The stomach is an organ that receives food from the esophagus. Inside the stomach, food is broken down and passed on to the small bowel. In the small bowel, the nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Stomach cancer is the fourth most common cancer, and there are an estimated 900,000 people currently suffering in the US. This cancer forms in the cells that line the mucosa. It is also referred to as gastric cancer. Due to its slow developing nature, it can take years before the patient feels any symptoms. The five-year survival rate with stomach cancer is around 30 percent.

Liver Cancer

The liver produces bile that aids in breaking down the fats in foods. This allows the foods to be absorbed from the bowel area. The liver is one of the key organs in the digestion process. Processing fats and proteins are essential for blood clotting. Glycogen is also stored in the liver, which is created by sugars. This substance helps to fuel the body throughout the day. The liver processes alcohol, medications, and helps to remove toxins and poisons from one's system. It is estimated that 39,230 people are diagnosed with liver cancer in the US each year. Sadly, about 27,170 people will die also from liver cancer. About 40 percent of those suffering from this type of cancer have cancer in another part of the body too. Colorectal cancer is known to metastasize to the liver in advanced stages.

Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus is the food pipe that transports food from the mouth to the stomach. The esophagus is divided into three sections. Cancer can grow anywhere in the span of the esophagus. About 16,910 new cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed each year, and 15,690 will lose the fight to this type of cancer. Glands in the wall of the esophagus create mucus to assist food in sliding down easily. When these glands become cancerous, they produce a condition called adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. This is the most common type of esophageal cancer. The second most common type is squamous cell carcinoma.

Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas lies between the stomach and the spine. This thin, lumpy gland is about 13 cm in length. The pancreas produces insulin to control the sugar in the blood, and it produces enzymes to help in food digestion. The pancreatic duct lining is where this type of cancer begins. From the duct, cancer spreads into the main section of the pancreas. It will move into the blood vessels and nerves and eventually obstruct the duct.

Cancer in this area of the body also spreads to the blood and lymphatic systems quickly. This is a tricky cancer to deal. Early diagnosis is key in survival. Very few tumors can be removed surgically due to the aggressive and silent nature of this disease. Over 46,000 patients are diagnosed each year, and more than 41,780 will die this year.

Analyzing The Facts

Though the case of gastric/intestinal cancer is not known, there are many risk factors that cannot be ignored. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are major risk factors. A diet high in animal fat and salty cured meats is known to be a concern. Additionally, those who have pancreatitis often or are overweight are more likely to develop gastric/intestinal cancer. Any changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, stomach pain, or other symptoms that are abnormal should be evaluated as soon as possible. As is the case in many of these cancers, time is of the essence. The survival rate increases with early detection.