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gastrointestinal cancer

Gastrointestinal Cancer Services

The Gastrointestinal (GI) Oncology Program’s world-class experts with the UCI Heath Digestive Health Institute provide the most innovative diagnostic and treatment services for gastrointestinal malignancies. These include cancers of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, small intestine and colon.

Patients receive expert, compassionate care from a multidisciplinary team of UCI Health specialists in gastroenterology, internal medicine, surgical oncology, medical oncology, radiation oncology, oncologic nursing, psychology, dietetics and social work at the institute's flagship location, the Chao Family Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center (CDDC).

To schedule an appointment, call 888-717-4463 or complete our online appointment request form ›

Our gastrointestinal cancer specialists diagnose and treat the following conditions:

Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett's esophagus involves damage to the esophageal lining caused when stomach acids leak back into the tube carrying food from the throat to the stomach. This condition can worsen and lead to an increased risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

Gastrointestinal cancer

Gastrointestinal cancer is a term that encompasses a group of cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Types of gastrointestinal cancer include:
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Rectal cancer

Causes and risk factors for gastrointestinal cancer

The causes of many types of gastrointestinal cancer are unclear, but known risk factors are listed below, which vary depending on the type of cancer (please note that there are many other disease-specific risk factors):
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Increasing age
  • Diet high in animal fat
  • Diet high in salted, cured or poorly preserved foods
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Obesity

Symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer

  • Abdominal pain, tenderness or discomfort
  • Change in bowel habits, such as frequency, consistency or shape
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue


Gastrointestinal Oncology Program physicians offer the following diagnostic and treatment services:
  • Biliary bypass
  • Cholangioscopy and laser ablation therapy for intra-biliary lesions
  • Colonoscopy/polypectomy
  • Endoscopic diagnostic and ablative techniques for Barrett's esophagus (including high-grade dysplasia) using endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR)
  • EMR for diagnosis and removal of precancerous lesions and early cancers
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and EUS-guided fine-needle aspiration (FNA) for diagnosis and staging of esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, mediastinal and rectal lesions and tumors
  • High-frequency mini-probes for staging early esophageal and gastric cancer
  • Laparoscopic colorectal surgery
  • Laparoscopic liver resection
  • Laparoscopic resection of endocrine tumors
  • Laparoscopic small bowel resection
  • Medical oncology services
  • Minimally invasive pancreatic surgery
  • Minimally invasive placement of feeding tubes in the stomach or jejunum
  • Stents for esophageal, duodenal, biliary and colorectal obstructions

The Gastrointestinal Oncology Program also offers a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic services for patients with motility disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) and pelvic diseases, such as female incontinence.

Endoscopic diagnosis and treatments for GERD and esophageal motility are successfully performed on an outpatient basis. These include:
  • 48-hour wireless pH capsule
  • Wireless largyngopharyngeal reflux monitor
  • High-definition esophageal impedance
  • High-resolution esophageal manometry
  • Botulinum toxin for achalasia
  • Minimally invasive Heller myotomy
  • Endoscopic gastroplication
  • Minimally invasive fundoplication

Advanced laparoscopic therapy completes the entire spectrum of the latest modalities. 

Experienced gastrointestinal oncology team

The highly experienced gastrointestinal oncology team with the UCI Health Digestive Health Institute (DHI) has developed many breakthrough procedures and treatments, including:

  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) for the early diagnosis and pre-operative staging of gastrointestinal cancers
  • Radiofrequency and endoscopic treatment of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal and biliary stents to treat tumor obstruction
  • Celiac ganglion nerve blocks to treat cancer pain

In addition, DHI surgical oncologists, who are also part of the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, have extensive experience in the surgical management of patients with gastrointestinal malignancies. They are highly skilled in minimally invasive laparoscopic and ablative procedures, as well as robot-assisted surgical techniques, all of which are used whenever possible to reduce trauma to the patient and shorten recovery time. These include:

  • Laparoscopic esophagectomy and gastrectomy
  • Laparoscopic pancreatectomy
  • Laparoscopic and robotic colectomy
  • Liver tumor ablation

Individual patient cases are presented at the gastrointestinal oncology group’s weekly tumor boards to develop treatment strategies tailored for each individual patient.

Pioneering therapies

Another advanced technique, EUS-guided fine-needle aspiration (FNA), was pioneered and perfected at the center by Dr. Kenneth J. Chang, executive director of DHI. Today, EUS-guided FNA is known worldwide as a superior, cost-effective and humane alternative to surgical biopsy. EUS staging of cancers can spare patients the need for difficult and painful exploratory surgeries.

Additional techniques developed by the gastrointestinal oncology team include:

  • EUS-guided injection of antitumor agents
  • EUS-guided celiac nerve blocks
  • Endoscopic treatment of Barrett’s esophagus and early stage cancer, including radiofrequency ablation and endoscopic mucosal resection
  • Endomicroscopy to visualize cells in real time within the gastrointestinal tract and inside pancreatic cysts

Clinical trials

The GI oncologists at Orange County’s only academic medical center also are actively involved in numerous ongoing clinical trials, providing their patients with access to leading-edge therapies.

View clinical trials ›

Nationally recognized

In addition to their pioneering research, UCI Health gastrointestinal oncologists have repeatedly been named Best Doctors in America®, an honor recognizing the top 5% of doctors in the nation. They have been repeatedly honored as Physicians of Excellence by the Orange County Medical Association. They also train and educate other specialists in advanced and emerging techniques and treatments.

Our experienced team of gastrointestinal cancer specialists includes board-certified and fellowship-trained gastroenterologists, surgeons who specialize in cancers of the digestive system and medical oncologists.

Our team includes highly skilled nurses and other healthcare professionals who specialize in caring for patients with cancers of the gastrointestinal system.

We also work closely with pathologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists and an extensive support team. Our goal is to provide the best care to all our patients with cancers of the gastrointestinal system.

Our physicians include:


Medical oncologists


Colorectal surgeons

Gastrointestinal surgeons

Hepatobiliary and pancreas surgeons

Surgical oncologists