What are digestive system cancers?
The digestive system is also known as the gastrointestinal system. The digestive system is made up of the digestive tract and organs that absorb and break down food into nutrients that the body needs. It also gets rid of waste products through the bowel.
Cancers of the digestive system are the most common form of cancer. They make up about for 1 in 5 of all cancers diagnosed and almost 1 in 3 cancer deaths in Australia.
Specialist treatment and support for young people diagnosed with a digestive system cancer
Specialist treatment and support for young people with cancer aged 15-25 is provided by the Youth Cancer Services (YCS) based in major hospitals throughout Australia. Canteen also offers events and other support for young people with cancer.
Types of digestive system cancers
Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is the third most common cancer diagnosed in Australia.
Although more common in people aged over 50, bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in adolescents and young adults.
The most common type of bowel cancer is adenocarcinoma. Less common types of cancer affecting the bowel include lymphomas and neuroendocrine tumours.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer.
Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumours
A gastrointestinal carcinoid tumour is a cancer that forms in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. The cancer starts from neuroendocrine cells, which make and release hormones. Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumours are also called neuroendocrine tumours.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of neuroendocrine tumours.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is situated in the upper part of the abdomen on the right side of the body.
Primary liver cancer starts in the liver. Types of primary liver cancer include:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (or hepatoma): this is the most common type of primary liver cancer. It starts in the main cells of the liver
- Cholangiocarcinoma (or bile duct cancer): this is a rare cancer that starts in the tissue of the bile duct, a tube that connects the liver and gallbladder to the bowel
- Angiosarcoma: a rare cancer that start starts in the blood vessels
Secondary liver cancer occurs when cancer starts in another part of the body and spreads (metastasises) to the liver, causing advanced cancer. Secondary liver cancer is much more common than primary liver cancer.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer.
Oesophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the oesophagus, the tube that takes food from the mouth to the stomach. The main types of oesophageal cancer in Australia are adenocarcinoma (the most common) and squamous cell carcinoma.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of oesophageal cancer.
The pancreas is a small gland in the abdomen that produces enzymes to help the body to digest food and hormones to regulate sugars.
Pancreatic cancer is not common and is rare in people aged under 50.
There are many types of pancreatic cancer. Almost all pancreatic cancers are called exocrine cancers, which means they start in the exocrine cells that produce enzymes.
The most common type of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma, which starts in the cells lining the pancreatic duct.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
The most common type of stomach cancer is called adenocarcinoma, which starts in the glandular cells of the stomach lining. It is also known as gastric cancer.
Less common types of stomach cancer include:
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), which develop in the tissue in the stomach wall
- Squamous cell carcinomas
- Carcinoid, or neuroendocrine tumours
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of stomach cancer.
Other types of digestive system cancers
Rarer types of digestive system cancers include anal cancer, small intestine cancer and gallbladder cancer.
Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with a digestive system cancer? Get support:
Counselling and individual support
Canteen's counsellors and psychologists are specially trained to understand the challenges that cancer brings. Our counselling services are confidential and completely free.
Events & programs
Connect with other young people who know what you're going through and get some much-needed space away from the daily pressures of living with cancer.
When cancer’s in your life, Canteen is in your corner.
Cancer affects everyone differently. That’s why Canteen provides a wide range of support services to help you overcome the specific challenges you’re dealing with.