Colorectal and GI Cancers Symptoms and Diagnosis

Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancer Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms you have will depend on your type and stage of colorectal or GI cancer.

Because the digestive tract is a continuous system that includes the GI and colorectal structures, many of these cancers cause the same symptoms.

Gastric cancer symptoms may include:

  • Bloating, even after a small meal
  • Blood in the stool
  • Problems swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting, with or without blood

Small intestine cancer symptoms may include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Lump in the abdomen
  • Pain or swelling in the middle of the abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss

Colorectal cancer symptoms may include:

  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting

Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance of getting cancer. In some cases, people can change their habits or employment to reduce risk factors.

Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and chewing tobacco, can reduce your risk of GI and colorectal cancers. Maintaining a healthy diet is also important.

Factors that can increase your risk vary based on the type of cancer:

Gastric cancer risk factors may include:

  • Family history of gastric cancer.
  • Helicobacter pylori infection.
  • Long-term inflammation of the stomach. 
  • Obesity.
  • Poor diet.

Small intestine cancer risk factors may include:

  • Age 60 or older.
  • Alcohol or tobacco use.
  • Being male.
  • High-fat diet.
  • History of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
  • Family history of familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch Syndrome.

Colorectal cancer risk factors may include:

  • Age 50 or older.
  • History of polyps in the colon.
  • Obesity.
  • Personal history of cancer.
  • History of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
  • Family history of familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch Syndrome.

Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancer Diagnosis and Staging

Most diagnostic processes begin with a:

  • Physical exam
  • Medical history
  • Blood sample that goes to the labfor analysis

Beyond these simple steps, our experts use proven procedures and state-of-the-art diagnostic tests to determine your type and stage of cancer.

To diagnose gastric cancer, your doctor may the following tests:

  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy

To diagnose small intestine cancer, your doctor may order:

  • Barium enema
  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy
  • Liver function test
  • X-ray

To diagnose colorectal cancer, your doctor order:

  • Barium enema
  • Biopsy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Digital rectal exam
  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Sigmoidoscopy

Staging ensures that every member of the care team understands the exact type, size, location, and spread of the cancer. Your care team will conduct tests and procedures to classify the type and stage of your disease.

Surgery may be necessary to determine whether cancer cells have spread from their original site to other parts of the body (metastasized).

If — after surgery — your team finds cancer has spread, they may order the following tests to help stage your cancer:

  • CT scan
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan

Colorectal and GI Cancer Prognosis and Outcomes

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is the only cancer center in the region recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Our teams collaborate closely and consider not just your stage or type of cancer. We also keep in mind factors that affect your well-being.

Cancer experts work with nutrition, pain, and other specialists to ensure the focus is on you — not the disease.

Your prognosis — or chance of recovering from colorectal or GI cancer — will depend on:

  • Your diagnosis.
  • Your overall health.
  • How well your cancer care team expects your treatment plan to work.

Our team will work at its highest level to achieve the best outcome possible.

Contact Us About Colorectal and GI Cancer Symptoms

Contact UPMC Hillman Cancer Center about colorectal and GI cancer care by calling 412-647-2811.