World Digestive Health Day 2024: 5 deadly digestive cancers and how to prevent them

The prevalence of gastrointestinal cancers is increasing in the modern era, largely due to poor lifestyle choices such as consumption of processed foods and sedentary habits. These digestive cancers, affecting organs along the gastrointestinal tract, predominantly impact men and are often associated with advancing age. They encompass tumors of various organs including the colon, rectum, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, anus, gallbladder, liver, and bile duct. Contributing factors to their development include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, aging, viral and bacterial infections, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer vary but commonly include bowel and urinary incontinence, severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss. Colorectal cancer, the second most common malignancy in the US, is influenced not only by genetic factors but also by environmental risks such as sexually transmitted infections, chronic inflammation, and smoking.

Dr. Rajat Bajaj, Director of Medical Oncology at Fortis Hospital, Noida, emphasizes the importance of understanding and preventing digestive cancers. He notes that these cancers pose significant global health challenges and underscores the need for awareness and preventive measures.

Here’s an overview of the main types of digestive cancers:

  1. Oesophageal cancer: Arising in the food pipe, it includes squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Environmental risk factors such as H. pylori infection and dietary factors like high salt intake are associated with gastric cancer.
  2. Stomach cancer: Also known as gastric cancer, it affects the stomach lining and is linked to factors like Helicobacter Pylori infection, high salt consumption, smoking, and dietary habits.
  3. Pancreatic cancer: Often diagnosed at an advanced stage, risk factors include smoking, obesity, chronic pancreatitis, and family history.
  4. Liver cancer: Originating in the liver or spreading from other organs, it is associated with chronic hepatitis infections, alcohol consumption, obesity, and certain chemicals.
  5. Colorectal cancer: Starting as benign growths called polyps, it is influenced by age, family history, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Preventive strategies recommended by Dr. Bajaj include maintaining a healthy diet rich in fiber and lean proteins, quitting smoking, staying physically active, undergoing routine screenings for early detection, and considering vaccinations against hepatitis B and HPV. These measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing digestive cancers and promote overall digestive health.

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