What is Stomach Cancer?
Stomach cancer is also known as gastric cancer. It begins when abnormal cells start to grow within the stomach lining.
Thankfully, stomach cancer is not as common now as it once was. In the last 10 years new cases have dropped overall by one and a half percent year on year. (1)
However, even though it is on the decline, there are still certain factors which can increase your chances of contracting this disease. Age, ethnic background, digestive bacteria, being overweight, diet, smoking and family history of the disease all play their part. (2)
The stomach is a large pouch type organ in which your food starts off the digestion process. It’s where food is mixed with acids and broken down before travelling further into the intestines.
The stomach lining has a number of layers, all with a designated purpose. The mucosa is the innermost of these layers and what secretes the stomach juices to break up food. This is the most common place for stomach cancer to develop. (3)
Unfortunately in the early stages of stomach cancer, symptoms don’t materialize very often or can easily be misdiagnosed as something else. In fact, only one in five cases of this condition actually get picked up in its infancy. (4)
The warning signs of stomach cancer can be determined as the following: (5, 6)
Heartburn can be described as an acidic or burning feeling in the chest, which can also leave a bitter taste in the back of your throat.
It’s caused by a number of reasons, including: over eating, spicy foods and pregnant women are also prone.
Medical conditions also exacerbate this symptom, which includes stomach cancer.
Nausea or Vomiting
Feeling nausea, like you want to or are actually being physically sick is another sign of stomach cancer.
Lack of Appetite and Weight Loss
If you are unwell, the desire to eat tends to diminish. With stomach cancer you may also feel full sooner from eating than what you normally would.
loss of appetite causes a lack of calories and nutrients. This means losing weight often goes hand in hand. However, if this reduction is notable in a short space of time and you can’t provide a valid answer as to why, it could be a sign something is seriously wrong.
Considering where your stomach is situated within the body, you may experience abdominal pain or a sense of discomfort in your abdominal region.
A persistent dull ache in the tummy is not uncommon with stomach cancer.
Blood in Stool
Finding blood in your stool is always a cause for concern. It’s a valid sign something is wrong in your digestive system somewhere. It could be caused by a number of reasons, including ulcers, inflammation or other digestive diseases.
It’s also an indication of stomach cancer, therefore it’s advisable to get it checked out by your doctor.
Swelling of the Abdomen
As stomach cancer advances, it can generate an imbalance of fluids within. This could be because the tumor is causing an excess in secretions or the stomach cannot flush fluids away properly.
This creates a build up of fluid anywhere in the stomach area, which leads to swelling and can also make the belly area feel very tight. This is typically known by the name of ascites. (7)
Stomach cancer is defined into 5 different stages, from 0 till stage 4. This system has been devised to ascertain how far the cancer has progressed. For example, a higher stage grade indicates further advancement. (8)
Here is a general overview of the staging process for stomach cancer:
This stage is known as “carcinoma in situ”. It’s where abnormal cells have been identified, yet they are only on the surface of the stomach lining.
The cancer has now progressed deeper into the stomach lining. However, lymph nodes or other surrounding areas are yet to be affected.
If it is detected at this stage survival rates are estimated between 88 to 94 percent following surgery. (9)
The cancer has advanced deeper into the stomach layers. It has also spread to local lymph nodes.
However, it is still contained within the stomach and hasn’t spread to other areas of the body.
Prognosis still remains positive, with an estimated survival rate between 68 to 82 percent. (10)
At this point the cancer could have spread anywhere from the middle and towards the outer layers of the stomach. It could have even breached the wall.
Local lymph nodes will also be affected, yet the tumor will still remain within the region of the stomach.
This is the most serious stage of stomach cancer. By this point it could have spread throughout the entire lining system of the stomach.
The disease has also now progressed outside of the stomach and is affecting other organs nearby like the liver or lungs. In some cases stomach cancer can spread up to the brain.
There are five key areas of preferred treatment for stomach cancer:
Surgery is the type of treatment in which cancer is removed from the stomach. In most cases surrounding tissue will also be extracted. The procedure can vary depending upon where or what kind of tumor you have.
A gastrectomy is a surgical procedure which either involves removing the stomach in its entirety (total) or a section of it (partial). Other types of surgery can involve removal of nearby lymph nodes.
Palliative surgery is where the main aim is not to remove the cancer, instead it’s to make the patient more comfortable. Gastric bypasses and inserting feeding tubes directly into the stomach are just two examples of the procedures available. (11)
Radiation therapy is external use of x-rays powerful enough to destroy cancer cells.
Sometimes doctors use it prior to an operation to make a tumor smaller. However, it can also be used after surgery, to ensure all the cancerous cells have been removed.
Side effects of radiation therapy include: nausea, fatigue and diarrhea. (12)
Chemotherapy is use of medication prescribed by an oncologist. It can be distributed intravenously or by oral methods.
The principles of chemotherapy are very similar to radiation. It’s used to either shrink the tumor before surgery or to kill off anything left behind.
However, chemotherapy is extremely potent and can also obliterate healthy cells in its path. Many patients going through this type of treatment will experience side effects, which will worsen the longer its administered.
Chemotherapy can weaken your immune system, affect appetite, generate hair loss, make you feel nauseous or cause vomiting. (13)
Targeted therapy is a treatment in which different drugs are used to stop cancer cells from growing. This option is sometimes used when standard chemotherapy does not appear to be successful.
Whereas chemotherapy doesn’t differentiate between good or bad cells, these drugs do. They are designed to home in on the mechanics of cancer cells and leave healthy tissue alone. (14)
The concept of immunotherapy is to administer medication which encourages your own immune system to fight off the stomach cancer.
What is Stomach Cancer? Stomach cancer is a disease which involves the growth of abnormal cells within the stomach. The most common place it’s discovered is the mucosa, the innermost layer of the stomach lining.
What are the signs of Stomach Cancer? Stomach cancer symptoms are not easy to detect in the early stages. Signs include: heartburn, nausea, indigestion, vomiting, feeling bloated and loss of appetite. (15)
How do you develop stomach cancer? There are risks which will increase your chances of contracting the disease. These include: bacteria, smoking, your diet, obesity, family history and age. However, the exact reasons behind these connections are still unclear.
How are you diagnosed with Stomach Cancer? Following an initial physical examination, the following tests can be performed to confirm or rule out the condition: upper endoscopy, endoscopic ultrasound, a biopsy, or imaging tests (x-rays, CT or MRI scans) (16)
What is the best treatment for stomach cancer? The best treatment will be based upon your individual circumstances. However, there are five procedures often used for stomach cancer. These include: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, surgery and targeted therapy. (17)
What are the long term complications of stomach cancer? Long term complications after treatment could mean following a special diet. You may also have to adjust your portion sizes due to removal of all or part of your stomach. Some stomach cancer patients experience what is referred to as dumping syndrome. This causes nausea, diarrhea or hot flushes shortly after eating. (18)
Is it stomach cancer considered a disability? Depending upon a certain criteria, you may be able to qualify for compassionate allowances. (19)
Is there a cure for stomach cancer? Stomach cancer is often discovered in advanced stages, which means its very difficult to cure it completely. However, where a tumor has been completely eradicated there is a 20 to 30 percent chance of the cancer not returning. (20)
Is stomach cancer life threatening? Yes, stomach cancer is life threatening, but thankfully mortality rates and cases are decreasing. However, it is still a disease which is difficult to detect early on, which does hamper prognosis statistics. (21)
Stomach cancer is a condition where abnormal cells manifest within the stomach. Also referred to as gastric cancer, the most common form occurs in the mucosa, which is the first layer of the stomach lining.
It’s a difficult disease to diagnose, because the symptoms often don’t present or are mistaken for other non-serious issues.
However, it’s a disease in which cases are on the decline. Experts have theorized this is all down to people leading healthier lifestyles. Eating more fruit and vegetables, keeping active and ensuring you are a not overweight are all factors which can reduce your chances of developing stomach cancer. (22)