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Gastrointestinal cancer

Gastrointestinal cancers affect the digestive system. These can include esophageal, stomach, colon, rectal and pancreatic cancers.

Gastrointestinal cancer care in Virginia

Learning you have gastrointestinal (GI) cancer is never easy, but we are with you every step of the way.

At HCA Virginia Health System hospitals, we provide a broad range of services to treat GI cancer, from cancer screenings and interventional treatments to nutritional guidance, support groups and rehabilitation.

Should you be screened for colorectal cancer?

When diagnosed early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable. Use our online tool to find out your risk and what you can do about it.

When diagnosed early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable. Use our online tool to find out your risk and what you can do about it.

Types of GI cancer we treat

Our doctors provide comprehensive care to treat a wide range of gastrointestinal cancers, including:

  • Anal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Neuroendocrine cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Stomach cancer

Gastrointestinal cancer treatments

Our team of gastrointestinal oncology specialists offers a number of services to diagnose and treat various types of gastrointestinal cancer.

What is gastrointestinal cancer?

The GI tract is made up of several organs involved in the process of digesting food and eliminating waste from the body. These organs include the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus. When cancer affects any one of these organs, it is considered gastrointestinal cancer.

Every type of GI cancer is diagnosed and treated differently. GI cancers may be diagnosed by a gastroenterologist, a physician specializing in gastroenterological care who will be part of an integrated team collaborating to develop the best plan of care for each patient.

Screening for GI cancers

Our doctors provide advanced GI cancer screening services to detect cancer earlier and get you treated sooner. Some of our screening services include:

  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Endoscopy
  • Endoscopic ultrasounds
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Molecular or genetic testing
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • X-ray

It is important to remember that there are many different types of gastrointestinal cancers, and the screening and diagnostic process for each can vary greatly.

Diagnosing GI cancers

Typically, doctors diagnose GI cancers when your symptoms lead to a hospital visit. Based on the displayed symptoms, your doctor will order tests to confirm an initial diagnosis. Additional tests to confirm the presence, stage or spread of the cancer may include:

  • Barium enema
  • Biopsy
  • CT/PET scan
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Endoscopic ultrasound with fine needle aspiration biopsy
  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
  • Sigmoidoscopy

A physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help determine the type and stage of your cancer. Determining the stage of your cancer helps your doctor form your treatment plan.

GI cancer treatments

The type of treatment you receive is dependent on the characteristics of your cancer, evidence-based guidelines, your age, your general health and your diagnosis.

Because GI cancers can be complex, our multidisciplinary cancer care team meets monthly to review each case of colon, rectal, esophageal, pancreatic and stomach cancer. These meetings are designed to provide care that goes beyond diagnosis and treatment.

Your treatment plan may include a combination of approaches, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, oral medication or surgery.

Multidisciplinary GI cancer care team

As part of our comprehensive oncology program, our cancer care team uses a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. We bring together all kinds of specialists to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

Our team members include:

  • Gastroenterologists
  • GI cancer nurse navigator
  • General surgeons
  • Medical oncologists
  • Oncology dietitians
  • Pathologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Radiologists

Gastrointestinal cancer nurse navigator

If you require further testing, biopsy, surgery or treatments, our dedicated GI cancer nurse navigator will be with you to support you on your cancer journey. Our nurse navigator will work closely with you and your doctors so you will know and understand all of your options and receive the treatment, care, education and support you need.

Treatments for colorectal and liver cancer

We provide gastrointestinal services and tests related to the diagnosis and treatment of rectal and colon cancers, commonly referred to as colorectal cancer. Our cancer specialists offer comprehensive treatment plans to ensure you receive individualized care that is right for you.

We also offer an advanced, minimally invasive procedure called Y90 radioembolization. This procedure is used to treat tumors that began in the liver or have spread to the liver from another part of the body. The procedure involves delivering a high dose of radiation directly to the liver while sparing normal, healthy tissue.

Complete colon cancer care

Colorectal cancer is a very treatable cancer when caught in an early stage, which is why we recommend routine screenings for patients. To aid in early detection, Sarah Cannon recommends individuals begin receiving colorectal cancer screenings at 45 years old. However, talk to your doctor about when screening may be right for you.

When to get a colonoscopy screening for colorectal cancer

Colonoscopies are an effective tool for preventing and diagnosing colorectal cancer. Regular screenings can detect colorectal cancer earl — when treatment is most effective — by identifying and removing polyps before they become cancerous.

To determine if you are a candidate for a colon cancer screening, answer the following questions:

  • Are you 50 years old or older?
  • Are you physically inactive?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Is your diet high in red meat and fat?
  • Has anyone in your family had colon cancer or colon polyps?
  • Have you ever had ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease?
  • Have you or anyone in your family ever had uterine, ovarian or inherited breast cancer?

If you answered “yes” to the first question and “no” to the others, you have an average risk for colon cancer. If you answered “yes” to the first, plus any of the other questions, you have an increased risk.


To check for and diagnose colon and rectal cancer, your provider may perform a colonoscopy. This procedure, which involves a very thin, flexible tube, can be used to both diagnose colorectal cancer and remove polyps. The entire procedure usually takes less than half an hour. Patients are given a moderate sedative, and because of advances in technology, the procedure is generally painless.

Treatment for colorectal cancer

Our oncology program provides access to advanced treatments and coordinated care for patients with colorectal cancer. Our cancer care team meets weekly to review each case and develop a comprehensive, individualized care plan for every patient.

Based on your diagnosis, your approach to care could include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, a colonoscopy, cancer surgery or a combination of these treatments. If surgery is needed to remove colorectal cancer, our highly skilled and experienced surgeons use minimally invasive procedures, including laparoscopy and robot-assisted surgery.

About Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute

As part of Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, our family of hospitals provides comprehensive cancer services with convenient access to cutting-edge therapies for people facing cancer in our communities. From diagnosis to treatment and survivorship care, our oncology expertise ensures you have access to locally trusted care with the support of a globally recognized network.

askSARAH helpline

Have cancer questions? We can help. askSARAH is a dedicated helpline for your cancer-related questions. Our specially trained nurses are available 24/7, and all calls are confidential. Contact askSARAH at (804) 591-4152.

Sarah Cannon Institute at HCA Virginia Health System hospitals

We are proud to join the leading network of experts from Sarah Cannon to create a new era of collaborative cancer care. Working together, we are redefining cancer care, so you can fight the disease where you get your greatest strength: in your own community, with the support of friends and family nearby.

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