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Cancer remains to be one of the deadliest diseases in the world. For decades, it has stunned the greatest medical minds with its complicated nature.

To this date, no cure has been found for any type of cancer.

There are many ways to manage it and purge it from a patient’s body but only if it’s found early.

This means early detection is the key to survival and this can only be done through regular cancer screening.

There are more than a hundred types of cancer, affecting different organs and systems of the body.

According to Micro Health, five out of the ten deadliest cancers are gastrointestinal cancers or a group of cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract and other digestive organs.

This list includes colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, and oesophageal cancer.

To gain some insight, here is a rundown on each type of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer.


Colon Cancer

Colon cancer ranks as the second most lethal cancer. This disease accounts for 9.6% of cancer fatalities.

It’s mostly seen in elderly people and its cause may be traced to smoking, alcohol consumption, and, of course, genetics.

Colon cancer affects the colon, the first part of the large intestine that is approximately 5 feet long. Cancer also affects the rectum and anal canal.

It occurs when gastrointestinal stromal tumors form in the colon. The disease’s symptoms manifest differently based on where it originates.

If it started around the anal region, it can be characterized by a drastic change in bowel movements, diarrhea, and constipation.

Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, and persistent abdominal discomfort.

Colon cancer can be managed and treated if caught early and confined just in the colon but when it spreads to the lymph nodes, the survival rate falls to 48%.

Since it affects older people generally, it’s been advised by experts to have colon cancer screening regularly done when individuals reach the age of 50. Several screening options exist, each with its own set of pros and cons.

One of these screening options is a colonoscopy.


Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer, just behind breast cancer.

It accounts for 6% of cancer deaths across the world, primarily because its symptoms are often misdiagnosed or ignored due to its similarities with other non-deadly diseases.

These symptoms include loss of appetite, stomach pain, jaundice, and mood swings. 

Unfortunately, there is no single diagnostic test available that can determine if a patient has pancreatic cancer or not.

Screening for the disease involves a lot of scans, blood tests, and biopsy, and these tests are only done when symptoms are already showing.

At this stage, cancer has already likely spread to the other organs of the body.

This is why pancreatic cancer is considered to be a silent killer.

It’s possible that it could be caught using an ERCP or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.


 Bladder Cancer

Speaking of the bladder, bladder cancer ranks just below pancreatic cancer. It’s a pretty rare form of cancer but it continues to affect over 75,000 Americans every year.

Bladder cancer occurs when there’s an uncontrolled growth of urothelial cells.

This growth forms a tumor and if it’s malignant, it can spread to other parts of the body, including the uterus and vagina for women, and prostate for men.

There are three types of bladder cancer: transitional cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma, the most common type being the transitional cell carcinoma. Each of these different types is named after where cancer began in the body.

Common symptoms include urgent urination, urinary incontinence, and pain in the abdominal area. Bladder cancer can be diagnosed through urinalysis, internal examination, biopsy, intravenous pyelogram, and cystoscopy.


 Liver Cancer

Liver cancer ranks sixth in the list of most deadly cancers. It accounts for three percent of total cancer deaths and has a survival rate of only 10 percent for five years.

Genes and excessive alcohol consumption are two of the biggest risk factors for this cancer. Often, its symptoms are ignored given how common they are – loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, and such.



It can be diagnosed through several methods, including blood tests, imaging tests, and removing a sample of the liver for biopsy.

Similar to all types of cancers, it’s best to catch it early on for immediate treatment with a higher chance of success.


Oesophageal Cancer

Just below liver cancer is oesophageal cancer. This type of cancer accounts for 2.4 percent of all cancer deaths.

Oesophageal cancer is characterized by small tumors inside the oesophagus that don’t go away.

There are two types of oesophageal cancer and it depends on where it originates – squamous cell carcinoma (upper part of the oesophagus) and adenocarcinoma (lower part of the oesophagus).

Its risk factors include: smoking, obesity, acid reflux, and Barrett’s oesophagus. This cancer can be diagnosed using an oesophagram or by undergoing endoscopy.



Colon Cancer Screening in Cape Town

Given the list of deadly gastrointestinal (GI) cancers above, it’s always best to be aware of its symptoms and how it could be diagnosed.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or just want a regular check-up of your gastrointestinal health, you could avail of a gastroenterologist’s services.

Gastroenterologists perform a wide range of procedures for screening cancer including colonoscopy, ERCP, gastroscopy, and capsule endoscopy.

Colonoscopy is one of the most common procedures used to screen colon cancer due to its high rates of success. During a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist uses a long and flexible tube with a small video camera.

It is then inserted up the anus and is used to view the insides of the colon, searching for any polyps and suspicious tissue growths.

Getting a colonoscopy, removing polyps (or polypectomy), and putting it under a biopsy is the most effective way to screen for colon cancer.



ERCP can help diagnose pancreatic cancer. It is a procedure in which endoscopy and X-rays are used to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal problems of the bile ducts and pancreatic ducts.

This is done if there are jaundice symptoms, light stool, stones in the pancreas duct, or a tumour in the pancreas, gallbladder, or liver.

Gastroscopy and capsule or non-capsule endoscopy, on the other hand, can be used to diagnose both types of oesophageal cancer.

Gastroscopy is a procedure that allows doctors to see the inside of the digestive tract with an endoscope inserted through the mouth.

This allows the doctor to examine the patient’s stomach and duodenum.

Capsule endoscopy is a procedure that allows doctors to diagnose a patient’s disease through the help of a camera contained in a capsule that is then swallowed by the patient.

There’s little to no complications when it comes to undergoing these procedures. At most, you might not be allowed to eat before the procedure and shortly after it.

Any insistent pain felt after the procedure should immediately be referred to the doctor.

Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death of men and women all around the world, making it crucial to stay on top of one’s health.

Undergoing regular cancer screening procedures and living a healthy lifestyle are two of the most effective measures to safeguard yourself from any type of cancer.

If you need to undergo colonoscopy or other gastrointestinal cancer screening methods in Cape Town, Gi Doc Capetown is a trusted medical practice that specialises in gastroenterology.

Having been in practice for close to 10 years, Dr. Eduan Deetlefs provides consultative, diagnostic, and therapeutic endoscopic and other related services to patients in Cape Town and beyond.


The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

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© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.