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Home » Our Services » Clinical Services » Cancer Services » Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer » What is upper gastrointestinal (upper GI) cancer?

What is upper gastrointestinal (upper GI) cancer?

There are seven main types of gastrointestinal cancer: oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, duodenal cancer, gall bladder and bile duct cancer, liver cancer and small bowel cancer. Together they account for approximately 11% of the cancers in the UK.

Oesophageal cancer

This can develop anywhere along the length of the oesophagus (gullet/'food pipe'). Two common types are adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus, and squamous cell carcinoma. These are named after the type of cells they originate from.

Stomach cancer

Most stomach cancers develop in cells lining the stomach. This type of cancer is called an adenocarcinoma of the stomach. This usually develops slowly. Other stomach cancers include gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs) or neuroendocrine tumours (NETs). These are relatively rare and can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system).

Pancreatic cancer

The pancreas produces insulin and digestive enzymes. It sits below the stomach and has a duct which allows the enzymes which it produces to enter the duodenum (the first part of the small bowel). The pancreas is divided into head, neck, body and tail which all have different roles. Cancer can occur in any area.

Duodenal cancer

The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine (bowel) below the stomach. Foods which have been mixed with stomach acid in the stomach are then released into the duodenum where they are mixed with bile (made in the liver and stored in the gall bladder) and with digestive juices from the pancreas. Duodenal cancer is relatively rare compared to stomach (gastric) cancer and colorectal cancer.

Biliary tract or gallbladder cancer

This develops either in the gall bladder itself, or in the system of tubes which bring the bile ('gall') which the gallbladder stores, to the duodenum where it is used in the digestive process.

Liver cancer

Primary liver cancer develops from liver cells that have become malignant. It is also possible to get secondary liver cancer, which is where cancers in other organs then spread (metastasise) to the liver. These are called by the name of the original ('primary') cancer - e.g. 'pancreatic cancer metastases in the liver'.