Dr Bilal Al-Khaffaf
There are two areas of treatment; curative and palliative treatment. Curative treatment aims to remove all traces of cancer; however, this is only suitable for about 1 in 3 patients with upper GI cancer. Most patients are diagnosed with metastatic disease (cancer spread) and the only (palliative) treatments available aim to slow the growth of the cancer or relieve symptoms.
The main curative treatment is surgery. Our team often perform this surgery using keyhole (laparoscopic) techniques which results in less pain and a quicker short-term. The location of the cancer will determine what operation is required. Oesophageal (food-pipe or gullet) cancer will usually require surgery to remove most of the oesophagus and half of the stomach. If the cancer is in the stomach, then either all or part of the stomach must be removed. We always talk to the patient in detail about this. Surgery of this kind is ‘life-altering’ and has short and long-term effects on nutrition and quality of life which can take up to a year to fully recover from.
The success of surgery in removing cancer is improved by adding other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Patients are always discussed in a meeting with other specialists to see whether this is appropriate for them. We are proud to be able to offer this specialised multi-disciplinary team service at the BMI Alexandra Hospital.
Treatment for metastatic cancer aims to slow down the progression of cancer and prolong the life of the patient. This usually involves chemotherapy. There is a lot of interest in this area of upper GI cancer, and patients are often asked to take part in new treatment research.
Symptoms such as difficulty swallowing are often treated with a ‘stent’. A stent is a short, lightweight tube which opens the GI tract where it has narrowed because of the cancer. It allows food and drink to pass the by the cancer, helping to improve some of the symptoms of difficulty swallowing or vomiting.