MD Anderson Cancer Center

Cancer Types

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Gastrointestinal cancer refers to abnormal cell growth leading to the formation of tumors in the digestive track.

Gastrointestinal cancers can occur in the: 
  • esophagus, stomach and pancreas
  • liver
  • bile ducts and gallbladder
  • colon and rectum
  • anus

What are esophagus, stomach and pancreas cancer?

The esophagus, stomach, and pancreas work together in the first step of the digestion process. The esophagus moves food and liquid from the throat to the stomach. The pancreas then produces juices to help the stomach digest food.

Risk factors for cancer of the esophagus, stomach or pancreas include aging, a diet high in salted, dried or pickled foods, and tobacco and alcohol use. Males are more likely to develop these cancers than females, and blacks have a higher incidence than whites of developing esophageal cancer.

The three methods of treating cancers of the esophagus, stomach or pancreas are surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.

What is liver cancer?

The liver is the largest internal organ of the body. It helps produce bile for digestion, filters blood, produces clotting factors for the blood, and detoxifies chemicals, medications and poisons in the body.

Risk factors for liver cancer are having had Hepatitis B or C, cirrhosis of the liver, and exposure to certain carcinogens (cancer causing agents). About 20,000 new cases of liver cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States.

The most common liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which accounts for 80 percent of all liver cancer cases and originates from the liver cells. Cholangiocarcinoma represents 15 percent of liver cancers and arises from the bile ducts in the liver as they proceed down toward the gallbladder. Rare types of liver cancer include angiosarcoma (which arises from the blood vessels in the liver), lymphomas (from the immune cells in the liver), and carcinoids (from hormone-making liver cells). It is common for cancers originating in other body organs to spread (metastasize) to the liver because it provides a soft, blood-rich surface for the cancer to grow.

What are bile duct and gallbladder cancers?

The bile duct connects the liver and gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive juice that aids in the digestion of fats.

Risk factors for bile duct cancer include aging, exposure to certain rare chemicals and disease of the bile ducts. Risk factors for gallbladder cancer include preexisting medical conditions such as gallstones, thyroid disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Both bile duct and gallbladder cancers are fairly uncommon malignancies.


What are colon and rectal cancers?

The colon and rectum are parts of the large intestine. The colon is the first six feet of the large intestine, while the rectum is the next six inches of the large intestine.

Risk factors for colon and rectal cancers include family history, aging, a high-fat, low-fiber diet, physical inactivity, obesity, and tobacco use. Cancers of the colon and rectum are among the most common cancers in the United States. The myth that colon cancer is a just a "Man's Disease" is wrong, they occur equally among men and women.


What is anal cancer?

The anus is located at the end of the large intestine and is the opening to the outside of the body. Risk factors for anal cancer include human papillomavirus, tobacco use, and aging. Anal cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer.

What are the treatments for esophagus, stomach, and pancreas cancers?

Surgical options for each of these types of cancer vary depending on how developed the cancer is. The earlier the cancer is found, the more likely the tumor can be removed completely and successfully.

Surgery for both esophagus and stomach cancer involves removing part or all of the affected organs. For cancer of the pancreas, the cancer, the pancreas, or part of the pancreas, and surrounding organs are removed. This is called the Whipple Procedure.

Radiation therapy is performed by a radiation oncologist who uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation is delivered externally from a machine outside the body and can be refined to minimize the effect on other organs.

Chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. It may be administered to the patient through a vein (intravenously), in the muscle (intramuscular) or by mouth. Chemotherapy often is used in addition to surgery or radiation therapy.


What are the treatments for liver cancer?

Surgical resection, which is the removal of the tumor, is the preferred treatment for liver cancer. Patients with liver cancer can have a liver transplant, but the results are not always successful and long lasting.

Another option is tumor ablation, which destroys the tumor without removing it. Examples of this procedure include freezing the tumor, or injecting the artery with materials to plug it so the blood supply that feeds the cancer is greatly reduced.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays such as X-rays, to kill or shrink cancer cells. For liver cancer, external radiation is delivered from a machine outside the body.

Chemotherapy is rarely used for liver cancer because it is resistant to most medications.

What are the treatments for bile duct and gallbladder cancers?

Surgery for bile duct cancer involves removal of part of the liver and/or the bile duct. Whether surgery can be done depends on where the cancer is located and how early it is found. Cholecystectomy is a surgery for gallbladder cancer, which involves removing the gallbladder. If the cancer cannot be removed, a bypass surgery will be performed to relieve the symptoms.

External radiation therapy is used for both bile duct and gallbladder cancers. A radiation oncologist uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells delivered from a machine outside the body.

Chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. It may be given to the patient through a vein (intravenously), in the muscle (intramuscular) or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often used in addition to surgery or radiation therapy.

What are the treatments for colon and rectal cancers?

Surgery is the main treatment for colon and rectal cancer. For colon cancer, surgery involves removal of the cancer, surrounding tissue and nearby lymph nodes.

For rectal cancer, there are three types of surgery:

  • Local excision removes superficial cancers and some nearby tissues from the inner layer of the rectum.
  • Local transanal resection removes cancers and some nearby rectal tissue by cutting through all layers of the rectum.
  • Low anterior resection, which preserves anal function, or abdominal-peritoneal resection, which requires removal of the anus and placement of a colostomy (surgical opening through the abdomen to provide a new path for waste elimination) may be done.

External radiation therapy is usually used after surgery for colon and rectal cancer patients. Radiation helps kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery and keeps the cancer from coming back. The trend now is to give chemotherapy and radiation before surgery to help preserve anal function and obtain better outcomes. Chemotherapy also can be used for colon and rectal cancer. Chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. It may be given to the patient through a vein (intravenously), in the muscle (intramuscular) or by mouth. It helps increase the chance of cure in the majority of cases.
 

What are the treatments for anal cancer?

Surgery can often completely remove anal cancer. There are two types of surgery for anal cancer depending on the size and location of the tumor. In one type, the tumor and some of the tissue around the tumor are removed. In the other, the anus and part of the rectum are removed.

Radiation therapy often is used for anal cancer. Radiation can be delivered externally from a machine outside the body or through a technique called brachytherapy, the insertion of radioactive seeds directly into body. These radioactive seeds are tiny metallic cylinders that contain a radioactive material. This type of radiation therapy helps to kill cancer cells while sparing surrounding organs from excessive radiation.

Chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. It may be administered to the patient through a vein (intravenously), in the muscle (intramuscular) or by mouth. When chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy, anal cancer sometimes can be treated without the need for surgery.