The gastrointestinal (GI) tract – the system of the body that deals with digestion – is a breeding ground for cancers. In fact, it is responsible for more cancer cases and deaths than any other of the body’s systems.
It is concerning news as thirty percent of GI cancer cases in India are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread. Delaying treatment to this stage of the disease makes it difficult to treat and considerably reduces chances of survival.
GI cancers are a broad spectrum of conditions which affect the GI tract and accessory organs which aid in digestion. GI cancers include those of the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, liver, and pancreas. They also include gallbladder cancers, which are on the rise in India and now constitutes the third most common form of cancer among women in Delhi.
“Thirty percent of GI cancer cases in India are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread. Delaying treatment to this stage of the disease makes it difficult to treat and considerably reduces chances of survival.”
Many GI cancers present with non-specific symptoms patients may mistake for common ailments, according to Gurgaon-based GI cancer surgeon Dr Vinay Gaikwad.
“The most important aspect with GI Cancers are the silent signs and symptoms,” he says. “Majority of the patients consider alarming signs such as constipation, blood in stool, indigestion or persistent heartburn as routine ailments and end up just opting for home remedies to address the same.”
Exacerbating the issue is the absence of screening programs for GI cancer, which was highlighted in a study published last year. “The screening programs for gastric cancer has been a setback due to various logistics reasons and the data available from reporting is also not content,” the study observed.
With this in mind, it is important the Indians are encouraged to consult a doctor if they experience chronic symptoms associated with GI cancer. In addition to those outlined above by Dr Gaikwad, Indians should also look out for vomiting (with or without blood), abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and feeling full after eating only a small meal.
“If the patient does not get any relief within one week, consulting a doctor is a must,” Dr Gaikward observes.