Stomach cancer is a disease that occurs when the cells in the lining of the stomach grow and divide uncontrollably. These abnormal cells can form a tumor and invade nearby tissues and organs, and even spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Stomach cancer is often called a silent killer because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages. It typically develops slowly over many years, and the symptoms may not be noticeable until the cancer has advanced.
Symptoms of stomach cancer can be non-specific and can vary depending on the stage and location of the cancer. Some common symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort: This is one of the most common symptoms of stomach cancer. It can occur in the upper or middle part of the abdomen.
- Nausea and vomiting: Some people with stomach cancer may experience nausea and vomiting, which may be worse after eating.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss: Stomach cancer can cause a loss of appetite, leading to unintended weight loss.
- Difficulty swallowing: Stomach cancer that affects the upper part of the stomach can make it difficult to swallow, especially solid foods.
- Feeling full after eating small amounts of food: Stomach cancer can cause a feeling of fullness even after eating small amounts of food.
- Anemia: Stomach cancer can cause bleeding in the stomach, which can lead to anemia (a shortage of red blood cells).
Causes of Stomach Cancer
The exact cause of stomach cancer is not fully understood, but several factors can increase the risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:
- Helicobacter pylori infection: This type of bacteria is found in the stomach and can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, which can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Family history: A family history of stomach cancer can increase the risk of developing this disease.
- Smoking: People who smoke are more likely to develop stomach cancer than those who do not.
- Age: Stomach cancer is more common in people over the age of 50.
- Diet: A diet high in salted, smoked, or pickled foods and low in fruits and vegetables can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as asbestos, can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Previous stomach surgery: People who have had stomach surgery, such as a gastrectomy, have an increased risk of developing stomach cancer.
It’s important to note that having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop stomach cancer. However, it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and seeking treatment for Helicobacter pylori infection if it is present. If you have a family history of stomach cancer or other risk factors, talk to your doctor about screening and other ways to reduce your risk.
Diagnosing stomach cancer
If you are experiencing symptoms that may be indicative of stomach cancer, such as abdominal pain or discomfort, loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, or blood in the stool or vomit, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can perform a physical exam and run diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Some tests that may be used to diagnose stomach cancer include:
- Endoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera on the end is passed down the throat and into the stomach, allowing the doctor to look for any abnormalities or tumors.
- Biopsy: During an endoscopy, the doctor can take a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
- Imaging tests: CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans can be used to look for signs of cancer and determine the extent of the tumor and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Stages of stomach cancer
Stomach Cancer is staged based on the size and extent of the tumor, as well as the extent to which it has spread to other parts of the body. The stages of stomach cancer are:
- Stage 0: This is also known as carcinoma in situ, where the cancer cells are only found in the innermost layer of the stomach lining and have not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues.
- Stage I: The cancer has grown into the deeper layers of the stomach lining, but has not spread beyond the stomach itself.
- Stage II: The cancer has grown into the outer layer of the stomach lining and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage III: The cancer has spread to the outermost layer of the stomach lining and nearby lymph nodes, as well as other nearby organs, such as the pancreas, spleen, or colon.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or bones.
It’s important to note that each person’s cancer may progress differently and that some people may not fit neatly into these categories. The stage of stomach cancer can help guide treatment decisions and predict outcomes, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. A doctor will also take into account factors such as the person’s overall health, age, and personal preferences when recommending a treatment plan.
Treatment options for stomach cancer
The treatment for stomach cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, as well as other factors such as the patient’s age and overall health. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery: Surgery is often the primary treatment for early-stage gastric cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tumor and any nearby lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells. In some cases, a partial or complete removal of the stomach may be necessary.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used in advanced stages of gastric cancer to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
- Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) – a type of cancer treatment that is used for advanced abdominal cancers. This treatment involves delivering high doses of chemotherapy directly into the abdomen after surgical removal of visible tumors. The chemotherapy is heated to a temperature higher than the normal body temperature, which helps it penetrate deeper into the cancerous tissue and may enhance its effectiveness.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used before or after surgery, or in combination with chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy drugs are designed to target specific proteins or genes that help cancer cells grow. This type of treatment is often used in combination with chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. It may be used in advanced stages of gastric cancer to help slow the growth of cancer cells.
In addition to these treatments, patients with gastric cancer may also receive supportive care, such as pain management, nutrition support, and psychological support.
The specific treatment plan for each patient will depend on the stage of the cancer, the location of the tumor, and other individual factors. It is important for patients to work closely with their healthcare team to determine the best treatment plan for their individual needs.
- American Cancer Society: Stomach Cancer – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer.html
- Mayo Clinic: Stomach Cancer – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stomach-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352438
- National Cancer Institute: Stomach (Gastric) Cancer – https://www.cancer.gov/types/stomach
- World Health Organization: Stomach Cancer – https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/diagnosis-screening/stomach-cancer/en/
- Cancer Research UK: Stomach Cancer – https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/stomach-cancer
- MedlinePlus: Stomach Cancer – https://medlineplus.gov/stomachcancer.html
- Stomach Cancer Foundation: Stomach Cancer Facts -https://www.stomachcancerfoundation.org/stomach-cancer-facts/