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Why choose UCLA Health for gastrointestinal cancer treatment?
The UCLA Health gastrointestinal (GI) cancer treatment team is a world leader in research and treatment of gastrointestinal cancer. Our integrated care team includes gastroenterologists, oncologists, surgeons and radiologists. We use the most up-to-date techniques and technologies to offer you the best chance for a cure. UCLA Health cancer programs rank No. 1 in Los Angeles and among the top nationally by U.S. News and World Report.
Highlights of our program include:
Therapies for every GI cancer: We can diagnose and treat early-stage tumors, and our doctors are equally skilled at managing complex cancers such as neuroendocrine tumors, pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer and liver cancer. Our Liver Transplant Program is one of the world’s leading programs. We are also one of the only centers on the West Coast that offers advanced treatments such as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
Recognized expertise: Our doctors have been nationally and internationally recognized for their work in developing and using effective cancer therapies. For some metastatic cancers, we helped develop the drugs that are the current standard of care, and we continue to explore new treatments every day.
Access to new treatments: We conduct clinical trials that offer eligible patients promising new therapies. Our team leads the largest clinical research program on the West Coast for GI cancers.
Whole-person care: You have access to an array of cancer support services through the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. We offer counseling, acupuncture, support groups and more through the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology.
Genetics expertise: Some hereditary conditions can increase your risk of gastrointestinal tumors. Our cancer geneticists offer testing to help pinpoint your risks. Once we have your results, we can recommend options that are most appropriate for you and your family.
We comprehensively care for you from GI cancer diagnosis through treatment and beyond. Our world-class services include:
We use multiple advanced imaging techniques to diagnose GI cancer accurately and precisely, including:
Angiogram: A provider injects a contrast dye into your veins. As it flows through your bloodstream, the contrast dye shows up brightly on X-rays, CT scans or MRIs. We may use an angiogram to analyze cancer growth in blood vessels and bile ducts.
CT scans and MRIs: CT scans use specialized computers and X-rays to produce images of the inside of the body. MRIs use magnets and radio waves to see inside the body. Our specialists often use specialized CT scans and MRIs to find small tumors even deep in the body.
Endoscopic ultrasound: Your doctor places a small, flexible tube (endoscope) through your mouth and into your digestive tract. The endoscope has a small device that uses soundwaves to create images of the tissue around it. We may use an endoscopic ultrasound to locate tumors in the esophagus, intestine or colon.
Gallium-68 positron emission tomography (PET) scan: PET scans use injections of substances called radiotracers to precisely locate irregular cells or activity. You receive an injection of Gallium-68, a specific radiotracer that is absorbed by neuroendocrine tumors. The doctor uses a CT scan to view inside your body, and the Gallium-68 appears as bright patches on the scan, showing the precise location of a neuroendocrine tumor.
Some genetic factors can affect your risk of developing GI cancer. Our cancer geneticists and oncologists work together to evaluate your genetic risk factors and determine your risk of future disease.
We work with you to help you understand your own health risks and how genetic risks affect your family. Together, we help you make important decisions about your health.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, finding support you can rely on is crucial. We provide comprehensive resources, including counseling, spiritual support, nutrition workshops, meditation classes, support groups and more at the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology.
Types of gastrointestinal cancers we treat
Our world-renowned team treats every type of cancer affecting the gastrointestinal tract, including:
Anal cancer: Irregular cells form in the tissue of the anus, the end of the digestive tract where stool exits the body.
Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma): Irregular cells form in the bile ducts, the tubes that carry digestive fluid between the liver, gallbladder and small intestine.
Colon cancer: Cancer cells form in the large intestine (colon). Learn more about colorectal cancer.
Esophageal cancer: Abnormal cells grow in the esophagus, the long tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Find out more about esophageal cancer.
Gallbladder cancer: Cancer starts in the gallbladder, a small organ that holds digestive fluid (bile).
Gastric (stomach) cancer: Cancerous cells form in the stomach’s lining. Learn more about stomach cancer.
Liver cancer: Irregular cells form in the liver, a large organ in the abdomen that produces bile and removes toxins from the blood. Find out more about liver cancer.
Neuroendocrine tumor (NET): This type of cancer begins in neuroendocrine cells, which respond to nerve signals and send hormones through the body. NETs can form anywhere in the body.
Pancreatic cancer: Irregular cells form in the pancreas, the organ in the abdomen that helps digest food and control blood sugar. Learn more about pancreatic cancer.
Rectal cancer: Cancer cells form in the rectum, the canal that connects the colon and anus. Learn more about colorectal cancer.
Small intestine cancer: Atypical cells form in the small intestine, the long tube that helps digest food and carry it from the stomach to the colon (large intestine).
Treatments we offer
Our team uses leading-edge treatment options to identify and target cancer. We offer:
Nonsurgical GI cancer treatments
Nonsurgical gastrointestinal cancer treatment may include:
Chemotherapy: Patients take medications that destroy fast-growing cells in the body, including cancer cells. Patients with GI cancer may have chemotherapy along with other treatments such as surgery, interventional radiology or radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy: Radiation oncologists use high doses of radiation to shrink or destroy cancer cells. Patients may have external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), which uses a machine to aim a radiation beam at the body. Or, they may have internal radiation therapy, where the doctor places a radiation source inside the body.
Immunotherapy: Patients take drugs that harness the immune system to fight cancer. These medicines may be taken by mouth (oral), given through an injection or administered through an IV (intravenously).
Targeted therapy: Also called biologic therapy, targeted therapy involves taking drugs designed to attack specific cancer cells without targeting healthy cells. The drugs often work by keeping cancer cells from growing and forming new cancer cells.
Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC): HIPEC is an innovative treatment that sends chemotherapy directly to cancer in the abdomen. We may use this treatment if a GI cancer has spread into the abdomen’s lining (peritoneum). First, a surgeon removes all visible tumors from the abdomen. Then, they insert a small, hollow tube (catheter) and send chemotherapy drugs through the catheter into the abdomen. A specialized machine heats the chemotherapy drugs as they circulate in the abdomen for one to two hours. HIPEC can treat cancer cells that can be difficult to reach with traditional chemotherapy or radiation.
Interventional radiology: Interventional radiologists place small, hollow tubes (catheters), needles and other tools through blood vessels to directly target liver tumors. They may use chemoembolization, in which they place chemotherapy drugs directly on the tumor. Or, they may use radioembolization, in which they block blood flow to the tumor with radioactive beads.
Clinical trials: These research studies investigate and find promising new therapies for gastrointestinal cancer. UCLA Health physicians conduct a variety of clinical trials to offer eligible patients the latest therapies.
GI cancer surgery
Gastrointestinal surgical oncologists may operate to remove as much of a tumor as possible while keeping healthy tissue intact. They may also remove all or part of the organ that contains the tumor. We use a variety of advanced surgical approaches, including:
Endoscopic surgery: The surgeon sends an endoscope through the mouth and into the digestive tract. Then they place surgical tools through the endoscope to remove the tumor without making any surgical incisions.
Laparoscopic surgery: The surgeon makes a few small incisions in the abdomen. Then they operate by inserting surgical tools and a camera through the incisions. This technique often leads to a quicker recovery with less pain and scarring than traditional open approaches.
Robotic tumor resection: Using a robotic arm, the surgeon makes a few small incisions in the abdomen and inserts the surgical tools through the incisions. The surgeon controls the robot at all times while removing the tumor. Robot-assisted surgery allows for increased precision and visibility.
Whipple procedure: This highly advanced and complex procedure removes the wide end (head) of the pancreas, the gallbladder, bile duct and the first portion of the small intestine (duodenum). After removing these organs, the surgeon reattaches the remaining organs to allow for usual digestion. The Whipple procedure is one of the most effective treatments for pancreatic cancer confined to the head of the pancreas. It’s a highly complex operation that only a handful of medical centers in the United States have the expertise to offer.
Our gastrointestinal cancer doctors are world-renowned leaders in cancer treatment. We research groundbreaking new therapies and bring our patients the most up-to-date treatments in real-time. You have access to the full range of available GI cancer treatment options so that you have the best possible chance of a positive outcome.