Hartford Hospital is a leader in the care of digestive system cancers.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be over 280,000 new cases of digestive system cancers (stomach, colon, gallbladder, pancreas, etc.) in the U.S. in 2012. Over the last 15 years, the death rate from many of these cancers has been declining.

A variety of specialists meet each week to tackle challenging patient issues. Preoperative chemo-irradiation is frequently utilized in selected situations to maximize cure and minimize GI function loss from surgery.

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Additional Resources


Colon/Rectal | Esophageal | Gastric | LiverPancreatic


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Colon/Rectal Cancer

The GI Division of the Department of Medicine has an active colorectal screening program with a busy GI endoscopy unit at the hospital and at other centers around the Hartford area.

The Colorectal Surgery Division of the Department of Surgery includes four board-certified colorectal surgeons who are innovators in the use of endoscopic and laparoscopic colon surgery and many other new techniques. They work closely with pathologists and radiologists in the diagnosis and staging of patients with colorectal cancer and with medical oncologists and radiation oncologists in the coordinated multidisciplinary management of these patients.

Esophageal Cancer

Cancer of the esophagus is becoming more common, but awareness of the risk is only now starting to grow. Over the counter medications for heartburn and acid reflux often mask its symptoms while acid erosion of the esophagus persists. 

Endoscopy can identify patients at high risk of developing esophageal cancer, and a new technique called Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) can prevent its progression. Hartford Hospital is second only to Massachusetts General in performing the most RFA procedures in New England. 

Minimally Invasive Esophagectomy

Our patients at Hartford Hospital now have access to minimally invasive esophagectomy for treatment of their esophageal cancer. This technique allows us to remove tumors through keyhole-sized incisions. Patients feel less pain, and are able to go home and back to their families more quickly. 

Barret’s Esophagus

Endoscopy screening for esophageal cancer before it becomes symptomatic is key. As many as 10% of patients with acid reflux may have Barret’s Esophagus, a precancerous condition with few noticeable symptoms. Screening for this condition is available at any of our four gastro intestinal endoscopy locations: at Hartford Hospital, in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square, in Bloomfield and Glastonbury.

Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) Treatment

This new procedure can prevent Barret’s esophagus from progressing to esophageal cancer. Hartford Hospital performs the most RFA procedures in Connecticut. We have all the expertise and experience you need to treat Barret’s esophagus.

Heartburn and Esophageal Cancer

Obesity, poor diet, alcohol use and chronic reflux may all contribute to the development of Barret’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. As many as 40% of Americans have heartburn once a month and 7% may have it weekly. New national educational campaigns are increasing awareness that esophageal cancer is on the rise and heartburn is a cause not to ignore. Over the counter medications for heartburn can mask symptoms of esophageal cancer. Patients need to be aware of red flags including:

  • age over 50
  • experiencing trouble swallowing
  • losing significant weight

These signal a need for medical attention and endoscopic screening.

Gastric Cancers

Gastric Cancers (Gastrointestinal stromal tumors or GISTs) occur in the digestive system. Other terms for these types of cancers are Gastric myoblastoma and Gastric myosarcoma.

The digestive system includes the esophagus, liver, stomach, gall bladder, large and small intestines, and rectum. The digestive system processes food to fuel the body and gets rid of waste. About half of GISTs occur in the stomach, but they can occur anywhere in the digestive system.

Theories about GISTs say that they begin in special cells of the digestive system. These cells are called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs). They send signals that tell the digestive system to contract, which moves food and liquid through the digestive system.

Liver Cancer

Many cancers of the liver, called hepatobilliary cancers, exhibit no outward symptoms to patients before diagnosis. Hepatocellular carcinoma is a particularly “silent” cancer. While most cancers are routinely biopsied, liver cancers are not since biopsy can cause them to spread. That’s why patients with suspect masses on their liver need careful evaluation by experienced hepatobilliary cancer experts. Hartford Hospital is one of the few regional hospitals whose expertise also includes liver transplant surgery.

A Multidisciplinary Team Approach to Hepatobilliary Cancer

A multidisciplinary team of gastroenterologists and liver experts convene to evaluate patients with known liver masses. Together they decide the best course of action based on blood tests, MRI findings, and the size and number of liver masses present. Interventional radiologists may be called upon to perform procedures like chemo embolization or cryoablation to freeze the mass. Every available treatment option is considered to determine the most effective care for the best outcome.

Specialized workgroups in hepatobiliary cancer include surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists and radiation oncology experts. Each week these specialists come together to diagnose and stage cancers as well as address challenging patient issues. A dedicated team of nurse practitioners helps patients manage issues and symptoms, and. Integrative medicine techniques like Reiki and accupunture help manage symptoms from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Whenever appropriate, we connect patients with clinical trials offering the most promising advances in treating their liver cancer. We make sure to support patients with any resources they (and their families) may need.

Liver Transplantation Program

In some hepatobilliary cancer cases, a liver transplant is recommended. Hartford Hospital is unique among area hospitals in having a very experienced Liver Transplantation Program. They provide the highest quality of patient-centered transplant care in a community setting. Our physicians, coordinators and nursing staff are all highly trained with many years of experience providing pre-operative, peri-operative and post-transplant care.

VIDEO: Pancreatic Disease: What's the Risk for Cancer?
Learn about the different types of pancreatic cancer, prevention, detection and treatment. Understand the risk factors, who may benefit from screening and current research and treatment options to assist in early diagnosis. (click for more info)

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in men, and the fifth most common type of cancer in women. Men are twice as likely as women to develop pancreatic cancer. It tends to strike people over the age of 50 (85%). Unfortunately, there are no methods of detecting pancreatic cancer at an early stage. Furthermore, the condition usually progresses very rapidly; the average lifespan after diagnosis is 4-8 months. The five-year survival rate is less than 5%. Over 33,000 Americans are diagnosed yearly with pancreatic cancer; about 25,000 Americans die of the disease each year. 

Cancer of the exocrine cells of the pancreas occurs much more frequently than cancer of the endocrine (or islet) cells of the pancreas. In fact, about 95% of all pancreatic cancers are within the exocrine system. This report covers aspects of this more common form of pancreatic cancer, called adenocarcinoma.

There are no official screening guidelines for pancreatic cancer. Testing is only recommended for people who are experiencing symptoms suggestive of pancreatic cancer. People who smoke , however, should be advised to stop and informed of their greatly increased risk of pancreatic cancer and other serious disease. For patients with hereditary pancreatitis , it is recommended that screening starts at age 35 . In those who have a family history of pancreatic cancer, screening may have to start at age 10.