GI Cancer: With New Therapies, Survival Rates Rise

Holland Doran

Troy Bond is all too familiar with gastrointestinal (GI) cancer — since 2008, he’s battled colon cancer, the third most common cancer in Arkansas. Today, after two surgeries and many rounds of chemotherapy, he is cancer free. But it was not an easy journey.

After being diagnosed with colon cancer, Bond had surgery at a local hospital, then came to UAMS, where he received chemotherapy under the care of Rangaswamy Govindarajan, M.D., medical oncologist at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

When the cancer spread to his liver two years later, Bond was devastated. But » Govindarajan prescribed more chemotherapy and surgery for the metastatic disease. Bond was declared free of cancer again, only to have another recurrence in 2012.

This, too, was successfully treated, and thanks to the teamwork of Govindarajan and his surgical colleagues, Bond is still going strong.

“It’s a miracle,” Bond, 77, said. “During my last scan there were no signs of cancer. I have had the most fantastic care that a person can have at UAMS. Dr. Govindarajan is very attentive and has been encouraging through it all.”

Bond, who lives in the south Arkansas town of Rison, is one of the many UAMS cancer patients who have benefited from a multidisciplinary team of highly skilled cancer doctors.

“With our treatments, patients can still live a happy, normal life,” Govindarajan said.

UAMS oncologists offer individualized treatments for all GI cancers including esophageal, stomach, liver, pancreatic, appendix, anal, gallbladder and colorectal, the most common of the GI cancers.

No matter the stage of cancer, UAMS offers the most complete, cutting-edge GI cancer treatments in the state. Treatments include chemotherapy, radiation to shrink the tumors, and surgery to remove the cancerous portion.

With these therapies, GI cancer survival rates have risen within the past decade, most notably among colorectal cancer patients.

troy-bond-2“About 10 years ago the survival rate of metastatic colorectal cancer patients was about six months,” Govindarajan said. “Now, the median survival rate is three years. We even have 30 to 40 percent of patients with colon cancer metastatic to the liver living beyond five years.”

Govindarajan is hopeful that the future for GI cancer patients will continue to improve in the country and at UAMS as physicians participate in and develop clinical trials.

“The most important trial we are conducting right now involves testing the effect of an anti-diabetic drug on colorectal cancer,” Govindarajan said. “This trial will help understand the mechanism of action of these agents and also help us improve the outcome for GI cancer patients.”

Early detection improves outcomes of colorectal cancer, as it is nearly impossible to detect without a proper screening, which most people should receive at age 50. Symptoms can be overlooked because they are similar to other problems such as heartburn, abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, nausea and weight loss. More serious symptoms include rectal bleeding and jaundice. There are still no screening methods for some of the GI cancers such as esophageal, pancreatic and biliary.

“With adequate colorectal cancer screenings, numbers should decline,” Govindarajan said. “Public education about colonoscopies and hepatitis screenings are important. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many patients with advanced cancer that could have been prevented with early detection.”