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What is cancer?

Cancer is uncontrolled growth of cells due to various known and unknown reasons leading to replacement of normal body cell and has tendency to spread all over the body and become fatal if not treated in time.

Why cancer develops?

The exact cause of cancer development is not known. Consumption of alcohol, smoking are known risk factors which may increase the chances of cancer. Long standing stomach ulcers and gall stones may lead to gastric cancer and gallbladder cancer respectively. A history of gastrointestinal cancer in immediate family members should be noted as very high risk.

What are the symptoms of gastrointestinal cancers?

Gastrointestinal cancer is also termed as digestive tract cancer with following alarming symptoms.

Esophageal of upper food pipe cancer presents as unable to swallow food, without any pain to start with, progress from solid food to liquids. Simultaneous history of smoking, alcohol and those with chronic history of gas and reflux are at high risk.

Stomach cancer presents with acidity, weight loss, black colored stool. Those with history of chronic peptic ulcer and habituated with antacid medications are at high risk.

Gallbladder cancer presents with mass in right upper abdomen, pain, yellow discoloration of eyes. Those with long standing history of gallstones are at high risk.

Pancreatic cancers presents with yellow discoloration of eyes, weight loss, central abdominal pain and often with recurrent vomiting. Often the disease is without any symptoms and is very advanced when starting to have these symptoms.

Liver cancers have no specific symptoms but those who have history of alcohol intake, viral hepatitis, known liver disease and past history of jaundice with sudden unexplained weight loss should raise the alarm and get checked.

Small intestine cancer usually presents with features like vomiting, abdominal distension and pain which is progressive. Often one may palpate a mass in abdomen.

Colorectal cancer presents with bleeding from rectum, loss of appetite, weight loss or obstruction. History of colonic polyps, long standing ulcerative colitis, and family history of colorectal cancer are at high risk.

When should I consult a doctor?

Presence of alarming symptoms particularly if they are persistent, any swelling or mass seen or found on touching and similar family history should raise the alarm.

Who is the best doctor for my cancer and what should be the ideal care facility?

Digestive tract cancers are handled by specialist Gastrointestinal surgeons. The best centers would be those who are equipped with team of gastrointestinal surgeon in alliance with medical gastroenterologists, medical and radiation oncologist, recent generation radiation machines apart from the center should be equipped with support team like nutritionist, physiotherapist, counselors and rehabilitative care.

What are different available treatments?

Cancer of gastrointestinal tract is best cured with surgical removal whenever feasible. Other treatment options are chemotherapy (medicine that kills cancer cells) and radiation therapy (highly charged waves to kill cancer cells). In situations where the disease is spread beyond surgical confines, radiation and chemotherapy comes to play role but the possibility of cure is less likely without surgery. In modern days the cancer are best treated with combined modalities where chemotherapy or radiotherapy is combined before or after surgery to achieve cure.

What is the right way of managing cancer?

First the treating doctor has to be expert in the field. It should begin with clinical evaluation of the patient, followed by sets of blood investigation and imagings (CT/MR scan, PET CT scan etc) to assess patient fitness, diagnose the disease, know the extent the disease so that the proper treatment can be started. The best treatment would be based on patient’s tolerance for the treatment and the disease extent. The best outcomes are based on simultaneous effort of the patient to get well and post surgery rehabilitation.

Can my cancer be cured?

It entirely depends upon at what stage the cancer is detected. Most of the early cancer can be cured if proper treatment is started on time. Any disease which has advanced to nearby tissues like nodes are considered advanced and chances of cure are less and those which have spread to liver bones etc are considered systemic disease and by enlarge are considered not curable.

I have heard that touching the cancer will lead to rapid spread and death?

It is a myth and not logical. Cancer if left untreated will anyway spread to entire body and eventually be fatal. Treating them with wisdom and aggression is the only hope and choice the patient has got.

What are these treatment side-effects?

Cancer treatment in particular aimed to work against cancer but often it may simultaneously damage healthy normal cells of the body result in unpleasant side effects for e.g. loss of hair, ulcers in mouth, loss of appetite, sin color changes etc and most of them are temporary and returns to normalcy once the therapy is over. Everyone has different sensitivity toward it and have different side effects and necessarily not be severe every time. Surgery side-effects depend on type of surgery, the type of organ resected, general health of patient and other factors. Initial pain after surgery and uneasiness is self limiting and best taken cared by medications.

Do I need to see my doctor life long after therapy?

Cancer is a serious and deadly problem and has the potential risk of recurrence event after complete removal. Though the risk is minimal or least in early diseases but can never be considered it WILL not recur. Hence regular follow up is must. It should be done 6 monthly for the first 2 years of treatment and yearly for another 3 years. The only chance of survival is to detect an recurrence early where potential remedial measures can be taken to add to survival. It is hard to state that a recurrent cancer is very hard to cure but instating early rehabilitative care at least can ease the sufferings which at least the patient rightfully deserves.