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    Gastrointestinal Cancer
    Read the story of ASCP Patient Champion Daryl and learn about
    the role of laboratory testing in the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal cancer.

What cancers occur in the Gastrointestinal Tract?

Gastrointestinal cancers are tumors located in the lining or walls of the gastrointestinal tract. This type of cancer can affect any part of the gastrointestinal track including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, and rectum. The small intestine (also called the small bowel) has three parts: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.

The most common type of cancer that develops in the small intestine is adenocarcinoma, which usually occurs in the duodenum and jejunum. People can also develop lymphoma, sarcoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and carcinoid (neuroendocrine) tumors. Carcinoid tumors often occur in the ileum. Tumors from other locations can also spread to the small intestine, which is called metastasis.

Parts of the Gastrointestinal Tract

Parts of the Gastrointestinal Tract



The normal small bowel, on the left and right of the slide, has finger-like projections (villi) which are responsible for absorption of nutrients. The tumor (large blue/purple mass) has completely replaced the small bowel lining cells. This appearance could be consistent with a primary or a metastatic tumor. Mass-forming lesions like tumors in the small bowel can lead to intussusception (a process where the intestine folds in on itself) which can be painful and a presenting sign of masses.


“The phone rang three days before our wedding, and the doctor was on the line. She said my lab results were back, and the growth was cancer.”

Daryl’s Story

In 2021, Daryl went to his doctor to get a colonoscopy. He was not having any unusual symptoms, just occasional fatigue and constipation, but his family has a history of cancer, so he asked his doctor to perform a more in-depth exam. During the procedure, the doctor found an unusual mass in Daryl’s terminal ileum —the last segment of the small intestine before it turns into the colon. She performed a biopsy on the mass and sent it to the lab. When the results came back, she told him that the mass they had found was grade 2 bowel neuroendocrine tumor. Daryl had gastrointestinal cancer.

Daryl and his family were very familiar with cancer and the pain it can cause; Daryl’s father passed away in his early sixties from a rare stomach cancer. “I’ve struggled sharing the exact diagnosis with some of my family,” he said, “because on the surface it appears worse than what I believe at this time.”

The type of tumor Daryl had, a carcinoid tumor, is usually slow growing and often do not show signs or symptoms until very late into the progression of the disease. However, they can be caught by routine screenings. “My care team told me that I am lucky due to the early diagnosis, early treatment, the fact the cancer is nonaggressive,” said Daryll, “It is to my benefit that I had annual scans and colonoscopies.”

Three days after his diagnosis, Daryl married his wife, Dana. Once they returned from their honeymoon, Daryl went into surgery to have the tumor removed. In addition to the diseased part of his small intestine, doctors also removed lymph nodes, his appendix and some of his colon. These tissues were all tested by the clinical laboratory team.

The surgery was successful, and Daryl now has no evidence of cancer in his body. To confirm his treatment remains effective, he gets regular colonoscopies and laboratory tests to make sure there is no reoccurrence of the cancer.

He is deeply grateful for the work of lab professionals and pathologists; “They are highly specialized in their diagnostic work. Medical doctors can’t report findings until all testing is completed. It is the collaboration of all of the professionals with various disciplines that create the successful environment for successful treatment.”