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Treating Cancers of the Digestive System with Radiation Therapy

Gastro-Intestinal (GI) cancer is a term for the group of cancers that affect the digestive system. This includes cancers of the esophagus, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, bowel (large intestine or colon and rectum), and anus.

The symptoms for GI cancer relate to the organ affected and can include obstruction (blockage) leading to difficulty swallowing or defecating, abnormal bleeding, or other associated problems.  The diagnosis often requires endoscopy, by placing a scope to examine the digestive tract, followed by biopsy of any suspicious tissue.  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.  These factors also determine the prognosis.

One of the most common GI cancers is colorectal cancer.  Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most common.  According to the American Cancer Society, there will be over 6,000 cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in Illinois in 2021.

Colorectal cancer includes cancers of the colon or rectum.  Most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).  Most colon cancers develop first as polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous.

Since colorectal cancer often begins as polyps, it is important to find and remove them in order to help prevent colorectal cancer.  That is where screening comes in.  Expert medical groups, including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, strongly recommend screening for colorectal cancer.  Although minor details of the recommendations may vary, these groups generally recommend that people at average risk of colorectal cancer get screened at regular intervals with high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or a colonoscopy beginning at age 50.  People at increased risk because of a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or because they have inflammatory bowel disease, may be advised to start screening before age 50 or have more frequent screening.

Once a biopsy reveals cancer cells and a PET scan confirms a tumor, your physician may prescribe radiation therapy.  Radiation therapy may be used as your primary treatment or in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy.  At Rush Radiosurgery, we offer external beam radiation therapy (EBRT).  EBRT is used to treat colorectal cancer noninvasively by delivering thousands of precise, high-energy radiation “beamlets” to the cancer cells.  It is a safe and effective treatment for colorectal cancer, damaging cancer cells and making them unable to multiply, while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.  Side effects are usually minimal, with most patients returning to normal daily activities after each treatment.  Several factors determine candidacy for radiation therapy treatment including the stage of the cancer, potential side effects, age, and overall health.

For more information about GI cancers treated at Rush Radiosurgery, including colorectal cancer, please contact us today.