One of the essential systems for our body is the Digestive System. It helps in maintaining proper functionality for the rest of the body. The Medical specialty that focuses on the health of the digestive system is referred to as Gastroenterology. 

The function of the digestive system is to break food into smaller parts, absorb nutrients so that various organs and cells in our body can utilize them. Lastly, it helps to pass the waste material out of the body. The process consists of different stages. Digestive System in humans is made up of the Gastrointestinal Tract wherein the process initiates at the mouth and then continues through the esophagus, stomach, and lastly the small and large intestines.  

The malignant conditions that arises in the Gastrointestinal Tract (GI tract) and accessory organs of digestion, including the esophagus, stomach, biliary system, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus is referred as Gastrointestinal cancer. The treatment depends on the location of the tumor, as well as the type of cancer cell and whether it has invaded other tissues or spread elsewhere. 

Gastrointestinal Cancers fall into two categories:

  • Upper Gastrointestinal cancer 
  • Lower Gastrointestinal cancer

What is Lower Gastrointestinal cancer?

The lower gastrointestinal tract, commonly referred to as the large intestine, begins at the cecum and also includes the appendix (humans only) colon, rectum, and anus. The primary function of the large intestine in all three species is to dehydrate and store fecal material. Lower gastrointestinal (or lower GI) cancer refers to cancers of the large bowel (colon and rectum) and the anus.  Bowel cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in older patients; more than nine out of ten new cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. 

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Frequently asked questions about Lower Gastrointestinal Tract Cancer

What is Lower gastrointestinal (or lower GI) cancer?

The lower gastrointestinal tract, commonly referred to as the large intestine, begins at the cecum and also includes the appendix (humans only) colon, rectum, and anus. The primary function of the large intestine in all three species is to dehydrate and store fecal material. Lower gastrointestinal (or lower GI) cancer refers to cancers of the large bowel (colon and rectum) and the anus. 

What are the symptoms of Lower GI cancer?

Signs & symptoms of Lower GI cancer:

  • A persistent change in one’s bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of the stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
Which organ is a part of lower GI tract?

The lower GI tract runs from the small intestine to the large intestine (colon) to the anus.

How can one tell the difference between upper and lower GI bleeding?

Upper GI bleed is more common than lower GI bleed. Upper GIT bleeding is from the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum proximal to the ligament of Treitz. Lower GIT bleeding is distal to the ligament of Treitz and colon.

What is gastrointestinal malignancy?

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer is a term used for the group of cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract and other organs that are present within the digestive system, including the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, colon, rectum, anus, liver, biliary system, and small intestine.

Does lower gastrointestinal cancer go away?

Generally, colorectal cancer may never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments to try to control the cancer for as long as possible. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful.

How long can bowel cancer go undetected?

The development of a bowel cancer from a polyp may take between five and ten years. So,  one can assume that cancer in the colon can go undetected for up to 10 years, meaning, a colonoscopy turns up normal results, and then one a decade later shows a malignant tumor. 

Which are different kinds of colon and rectal cancers?
  • Adenocarcinomas, which account for over 95% of colon and rectal cancers. These cancers originate in the colon or rectum's mucus cells.
  • Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. While these most commonly start in your lymph nodes, they also sometimes occur in the colon or the rectum.
  • Sarcomas, which start in the rectum or colon's blood vessels or muscle tissues.
  • Carcinoid tumors, which originate in the colon and rectum's hormone-producing cells.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors, which can be found anywhere in the gastrointestinal system.
What kind of treatment is required for lower GI cancer?

Different treatments required such as:

  • Surgery and radiation therapy are mainly used to treat only the cancer. They do not affect the rest of the body. 
  • Drugs such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy go through the whole body. They can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body.

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Types of Lower Gastrointestinal Cancers:
There are 3 types of cancer involved with this, which are as follows:

Colorectal Cancer:

Colorectal cancer (CRC), also referred as bowel cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer, is the development of cancer from the large intestine (colon or rectum). Most colorectal cancers are due to old age and lifestyle factors, with only a small number of cases due to underlying genetic disorders. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Diet, obesity, smoking, and lack of physical activity
  • Another risk factor is inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. 
  • Adenomatous polyposis and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer
It typically starts as a benign tumor, often in the form of a polyp, which over time becomes cancerous

Its Symptoms include:
  • Worsening constipation
  • Blood in the stool
  • Decrease in stool caliber (thickness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight, and nausea or vomiting 
  • Rectal bleeding or anemia

Anal Cancer:

Anal cancer is cancer that arises in the anus, the end of the intestinal tract where stool (feces) exits the body. The cancer can begin either in the lining of the anus or in the skin surrounding the anus. Anal cancer is different from colon or rectal cancer, which arises in the other parts of the large intestine.

Risk factors include: 

  • Older age
  • Many sexual partners 
  • Anal sex
  • Smoking
  • History of cancer 

Its Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the anus or rectum 
  • Pain in the area of the anus 
  • A mass or growth in the anal canal 
  • Anal itching

Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumor:

Gastrointestinal (GI) carcinoid tumors are slow-growing tumors that form in the neuroendocrine cells in the GI tract. The GI tract includes the stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, appendix, and other organs. Its presence is associated with an increased risk of cancers affecting the other parts of the digestive system. Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors form from a certain type of neuroendocrine cell. Neuroendocrine cells make hormones that help control digestive juices and the muscles used in moving food through the stomach and intestines. A GI carcinoid tumor may also make hormones and release them into the body.

Risk factors include: 

  • Genetic syndromes
  • Other stomach conditions
  • Race and gender
  • Family history of any type of cancer

Its Symptoms include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Pain in the Rectum
  • Constipation
What are the Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Tract Cancer?
Symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer vary, depending on the type of cancer. Symptoms may include:
  • Abdominal pain, tenderness, or discomfort
  • Change in bowel habits, such as frequency or consistency or shape
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
What are the Risk Factors and Causes of Gastrointestinal Tract Cancer?
Some of the risks factors which aggravate the cancer are: 
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Increasing age
  • Diet high in animal fat
  • Diet containing high amounts of salted, cured, or poorly preserved foods
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Obesity
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