Newly Diagnosed With Gastrointestinal Cancer?

Patients Newly Diagnosed with GI Cancers

If you're a patient newly diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer, then it is likely that you have many questions. It's a lot of information coming in at once, and it can be a lot to process. We want to help by answering some of the first questions that may come to mind after your initial diagnosis. Here is more information about some of the things you may be curious about. 

What Kind of Doctor Handles Gastrointestinal Cancer?

If your primary care physician (PCP) determines that you may have gastrointestinal cancer, they will refer you to a medical oncologist. Oncology is the study of cancer, and oncologists are trained to handle GI and other types of cancers.

When you work with a medical oncologist, he or she provides you with a diagnosis and consults with a team of knowledgeable professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan. Depending on your treatment plan and diagnosis, your medical team may include some or all of the following types of doctors: 

  • Radiation oncologist: A radiation oncologist specializes in giving radiation treatment to cancer patients. They will work closely with other medical team members to create a customized treatment plan that's most appropriate for your type of gastrointestinal cancer. 
  • Dietitian: It's not unusual for you to need to change your diet if you're diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer. A dietician can work closely with you to help you find foods that will complement your treatment plan. 
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in the digestive tract and the gallbladder, liver, bile ducts, and pancreas
  • Surgeon: If your gastrointestinal cancer requires surgical removal, then a surgeon will be part of your medical team. This doctor will surgically remove the tumor and provide follow-up care. 
  • Pathologist: A pathologist is a doctor who studies body fluids and tissues. They also help your primary care doctor diagnose and use laboratory tests to monitor chronic conditions, such as gastrointestinal cancer. 
  • Genetic counselor: Because there is a genetic component to some forms of gastrointestinal cancer, you may work with a genetic counselor to understand more about your genetic makeup. You may use genetic testing results to learn your chances of developing certain cancers or passing those genetics on to your children. 

What Kind of Gastrointestinal Cancer Do I Have?

Several types of gastrointestinal cancers may affect your GI tract. These cancers impact your digestive system, which includes your esophagus, stomach, liver, and colon. Gastrointestinal cancers include:

  • Anal Cancer: Anal cancer forms in the anal tissue. 
  • Colon Cancer: Colon cancer can include cancer of the colon or rectum located at the lower end of the digestive tract. 
  • Esophageal Cancer: Esophageal cancer refers to cancer located in the tube (esophagus) that runs from the throat to the stomach. 
  • Gallbladder Cancer: Gallbladder cancer develops in the gallbladder, which is located just below the liver. 
  • GI Stromal Tumors: GI stromal tumors are abnormal cell growths in the gastrointestinal tract. 
  • Liver Cancer: Cancer that starts in the cells of the liver. 
  • Pancreatic Cancer: Pancreatic cancer refers to cancer in the lower part of the stomach, also known as the pancreas. 
  • Rectal Cancer: Rectal cancer can include cancer of the colon or rectum located at the lower end of the digestive tract. 
  • Stomach Cancer: Cancer that develops in the stomach. 

Which Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?

There are a few types of GI cancer treatments that your oncologist may suggest. There are many factors that will determine which type of treatment is right for you, but the options listed here are the most common. 

Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapy

Depending on the type, size, and location of the GI cancer, your oncologist may suggest chemotherapy. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, making it impossible for them to grow and divide. Targeted medications may be used to treat genes or proteins that contribute to cancer growth in the body. 

Radiation

Radiation therapy may be used for certain types of GI cancers to shrink tumors. Radiation is the most common form of treatment for anal cancer specifically. 

Surgery

Some types of GI cancer are treated with surgery. Surgical methods are used to completely remove the tumor from the body. The type of surgery and methods used can vary based on the type of GI cancer you have. 

Your First Oncology Appointment

You are likely wondering what you should expect during your first oncology appointment. During this visit, your oncologist will go into greater detail about your diagnosis and the type of treatment options available. Your oncologist will discuss the various GI cancer treatment plans, and they can be customized to suit your needs. You'll also be informed about what to expect during recovery, side effects, and other information about resources and support. 

Read: Preparing For Your First Oncology Appointment

Since you'll be given a lot of information during your first oncologist appointment, it's important to keep notes and ask questions. Bring a notebook and you with any questions you may have so you don't forget to ask. Also, make a note of all the things that your oncologist tells you so that you can look back on that information when you go home. Some people ask to record their oncology appointments so they can review that information later. If possible, you can also see about bringing someone with you for support. 

What Happens After Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment?

Following treatment, you'll be given directions about what you should and shouldn't do during recovery. It is common to have additional follow-up appointments so that your doctor can monitor your condition and discuss any side effects you may experience. 

Should I Get a Second Opinion?

If you ever have any doubt about your cancer diagnosis, you should absolutely get a second opinion. You deserve to feel confident in your diagnosis, and it's common for people to seek out a second opinion when it comes to a serious diagnosis such as GI cancer. 

At WVCI, we want you to feel comfortable with the medical advice and care that you're receiving, and a second opinion goes a long way toward helping you achieve that comfort level. When you seek a second opinion, make sure that you have the following information on hand:

  • Any medical records that include your cancer diagnosis and staging
  • The results from your most recent blood tests
  • The results of any biopsies performed
  • All images such as CTs, MRIs, or PET Scans on discs
  • Your recommended treatment plan

You Are Not Alone at WVCI 

At WVCI, we want you to know that we are here for you throughout your entire journey. We offer various resources and support to help you throughout your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. If you have any questions about other helpful resources, don't hesitate to reach out to us for more information. 

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