Gastrointestinal Cancer

Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment

Treatment options for gastrointestinal (GI) cancer depend on each patient’s type and stage of cancer, as well as the patient’s age, overall health, and preferences. At the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center, we offer every GI cancer therapy available. 

Medical Treatment

Medical treatment for GI cancer varies, depending on the cancer. Some therapies are designed to kill cancer cells; others aim to stop the cancer cells from growing, attack their abnormalities, or decrease the chance of them returning. 

The medical oncologists who treat gastrointestinal cancer at UT Southwestern are subspecialized, which means they focus specifically on treating GI cancers. They work with a multidisciplinary team of other subspecialists, including surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists, to determine the best treatment plan for each patient. 

Access to New Treatments

When patients receive care at UT Southwestern, they have access to the latest medical treatments. As an academic medical center and the only cancer center in North Texas designated by the National Cancer Institute, we can offer new treatments for GI cancers as soon as they’re available or at their earliest stages of development, before they become available at other medical centers. 

For example, when the drug regorafenib (commercial name Stivarga®) was being evaluated in clinical trials for the treatment of colon cancer, UT Southwestern was, for a long while, the only site in Texas where the drug was available. This drug is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for some patients with colon cancer and advanced GI stromal tumors that cannot be surgically removed and no longer respond to other FDA-approved treatments.

Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapy

Depending on the type of GI cancer and the patient, we sometimes use medical treatments to shrink the cancer before an operation (called neoadjuvant therapy). This approach can make surgery an option for patients with otherwise inoperable tumors, and it can make an operation safer and more effective. We might also use treatments after surgery if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or to relieve symptoms of GI cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. 

Medical treatments for GI cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy: Our medical oncologists use drugs to destroy cancer cells, which work by stopping their ability to grow and divide.
  • Targeted therapy: Our oncologists use drugs that target the cancer’s specific genes or proteins or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. This type of treatment, which is not appropriate for everyone, blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy cells. 

Surgery for Gastrointestinal Cancer

Surgical treatment of GI cancer is a necessary part of treatment for patients who have a chance to be cured. Choosing a surgeon who specializes in these complex operations is critical to allow for a quicker recovery, offer the best chance for removing all of the tumor, and provide coordinated care for any other needed treatment. 

Many different surgeries treat the different types of GI cancer. The surgical oncologists at the Simmons Cancer Center are highly trained and experienced in performing the most appropriate surgery for patients and their specific GI cancer. 

Our multidisciplinary approach to GI cancer care means that before patients receive any treatment, our surgeons collaborate with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, endoscopists, radiologists, and pathologists, all of whom specialize in GI cancer. 

Surgery for gastrointestinal cancer might be done with the traditional open procedure or, for some patients, a minimally invasive laparoscopic or robotic procedure. 

Minimally invasive procedures generally have quicker recovery times compared with open surgery. This advantage means patients can get back to normal activities faster or move on to the next step in their treatment plan sooner. 

Our team includes some of the most experienced minimally invasive GI cancer surgeons in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Having a surgeon who specializes and has experience in the exact type of procedure needed is important – it can directly affect outcomes and make a difference in care. 

In addition, UT Southwestern offers hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), a unique chemotherapy procedure administered by a surgical oncologist for the treatment of some GI cancers, such as those that originate from or spread to the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the walls of the abdomen. HIPEC delivers heated chemotherapy directly into the abdominal cavity, where it penetrates the diseased tissue directly, after all of the known tumors have been removed.

Radiation Therapy for Gastrointestinal Cancer

Radiotherapy is used in the treatment of many GI cancers. For anal cancer in particular, it is often the main form of therapy, in combination with chemotherapy. 

UT Southwestern physicians are world leaders in the development of a newer form of radiation delivery called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR, also known as stereotactic body radiation therapy, or SBRT). We have successfully tested a high-dose, single-treatment SABR procedure for liver cancer, demonstrating its safety and efficacy. With SABR treatment, the radiation beam is delivered from many different angles, sparing healthy tissue from excessive radiation while delivering a highly potent dose to the tumor target.