World Digestive Health Day is on May 29th, and this year’s theme addresses the prevention and early detection of GI cancers. GI cancers occur in the organs that make up the digestive system, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) system. They break down the food you eat so your body can use it for the energy needed to help function every day. Cancer can occur anywhere in the digestive system - in the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon and rectum), liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Many of the most common cancers in the United States and the world develop in the digestive system.
Facts about GI cancer
- Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in men and women in the United States. It is more common in people over the age of 50, but is on the rise in adults under 50. Unlike many other GI cancers, colorectal cancer is treatable and often preventable when found early on screening exams.
- According to the Esophageal Cancer Action Network, esophageal cancer caused by long-time gastroesophageal reflux disease (adenocarcinoma) is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States.
- Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in later stages, and has become the third leading cause of cancer-related death. Jeopardy host Alex Trebek is fighting this type of cancer. Frequent or long-time pancreatitis and a family history of pancreatic cancer are two risk factors.
- Primary liver cancer rates have risen in the United States. The American Cancer Society reports the number of new cases has tripled since 1980. Causes include increases in undiagnosed and untreated Hepatitis C in baby boomers and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Other risk factors include Hepatitis B and excess alcohol consumption.
- In addition to hepatitis, other infections are risk factors for GI cancers. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) for anal cancer and helicobacter (H.) pylori for stomach cancer.
- Risk factors for most GI cancers include poor diet, obesity, lack of physical activity and smoking. Personal and family history of cancer, inherited genetic conditions, and chronic inflammation can also increase the risk of GI cancers.
Reducing your risk of getting GI cancer
The American Institute of Cancer Research states nearly half of the most common cancers could be prevented with lifestyle changes. Prevention and early detection of GI cancers saves lives.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat and processed meats and foods.
- Keep a healthy weight; obesity is linked to many GI cancers.
- Be active every day. Get your steps in. The American Cancer Society recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.
- Don’t use tobacco of any type.
- Limit your alcohol.
- Get tested for Hepatitis C if you are a baby boomer (born 1945-1965) or have other risk factors. Your primary care doctor can order this test or you can contact your county health department.
- Talk with your doctor or county health department about immunizations you should be getting such as Hepatitis B and HPV.
- Practice safe sex.
- Know your family history of cancer and report it when you’re asked about your medical history.
- Talk to your doctor if you are taking non-prescription acid reflux medicines longer than two weeks.
- See your doctor as recommended. Discuss which screening exams are right for you based on your age, gender and risk factors.
- Pay attention to your body. Notify your doctor if you notice changes such as blood in your stool, weight loss without trying, or a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few weeks.
Websites with information about preventing, detecting and treating GI cancers
- American Cancer Society - cancer.org
- American College of Gastroenterology - https://gi.org/patients/
- American Institute of Cancer Research - aicr.org/
- American Liver Foundation - https://liverfoundation.org/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - cdc.gov
- Colorectal Cancer Alliance - ccalliance.org/
- Esophageal Cancer Action Network - https://ecan.org/
- National Cancer Institute - cancer.gov
- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network - pancan.org/
- Prevent Cancer Foundation - https://preventcancer.org/
For more information on GI cancer, visit GI Cancer on the Sarah Cannon Expert Blog.