As a collective, digestive cancers (esophagus, stomach, colon, and pancreatic) are the most common and deadliest worldwide. There are over three million new cases of digestive cancers per year, with colorectal cancer in the lead. Esophageal cancer is rising in incidence faster than any other cancer in the Western world. Pancreatic cancer is also on the rise at an alarming rate (currently the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.) and is predicted to become the second leading cause by 2020. These cancers are not part of the public consciousness and discussions of gastrointestinal problems are generally avoided in our culture.
Timely endoscopic screening offers the only hope to change these dismal statistics and it is imperative that the public is better informed about the benefits of screening.
The public is also largely uninformed about endoscopic treatments as alternatives to surgery. A cancer can be cured endoscopically if detected at a sufficiently early stage. The ideal is to find a cancer at the precancerous stage when curative removal is easily accomplished (for example, polypectomy in the colon). When cancer is already at an advanced stage, endoscopic treatments can be very effective in improving quality of life.
A growing list of endoscopic treatments are available for diseases and conditions that either were once predominately treated surgically:
Bleeding lesions such as ulcers, varices, and abnormal vessels
Fistulas and leaks
Pancreatic fluid collections (pseudocysts)
Stones that form in the bile duct, pancreatic duct, or gallbladder
GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease)