Over 783,000 people have died due to stomach cancer this year. This cancer is among the top 10 most common cancers and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths globally.
What is Stomach Cancer?
Stomach cancer also known as gastric cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the inner lining of the stomach which is made up of mucus producing cells.
The stomach is basically a stretchy muscular bag-like organ located in the left side of the abdomen. It receives food from the oesophagus and expands to hold the food after which the food is digested and passed to the small intestine (ileum).
It is also referred to as Gastric Cancer.
Causes of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer, like other cancers, occurs when there is mutation in cell DNA which causes the cells to grow rapidly and uncontrollably; this accumulation of cancer cells leads to formation of a tumour. The exact cause of stomach cancer is not known, however, your risk of developing this cancer can be increased by the following risk factors:
- Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD): This is a condition that occurs as a result of backflow of stomach acid into the oesophagus. People with this condition can be at an increased risk of developing stomach cancer.
- Obesity: Having a BMI greater than 30 makes a person obese and this can increase stomach cancer risk.
Helicobacter Pylori: This is a common bacterium which causes ulcers. Other health conditions such as polyps, gastritis and pernicious anaemia can also increase the risk for stomach cancer.
- Smoking also increases stomach cancer risk.
- Exposure to harmful substances like asbestos and working in coal, rubber, metal and timber industries.
- A family history with stomach cancer; if a close family member has had stomach cancer, that can increase your risk for the cancer as well.
- Unhealthy diet which contains more salted and smoked foods and less vegetables and fruits.
- Having had stomach surgery for ulcer in the past can also increase your risk for stomach cancer.
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
In the early stage of this cancer, a person may not experience any symptoms or may experience mild symptoms like:
- Loss of appetite
- Bloating especially when you eat meat
As the cancer progresses, other serious symptoms are experienced. These can include:
- Blood in the stool
- Unexplained loss of weight
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain in the stomach
- Swelling in the stomach
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- The skin or eyes becoming yellowish
Diagnosis of Stomach Cancer
Like most health conditions, the diagnosis of stomach cancer starts with a physical exam. This is done during the initial doctor’s consultation when the doctor finds out which symptoms you are experiencing your medical history and that of your family.
The physical exam entails checking for any abnormalities. After which the doctor can order for other tests like a blood test check for the presence of H. pylori bacteria which causes similar symptoms.
Other tests include:
- Biopsy: This involves taking a piece of tissue from the stomach during an endoscopy to check for the presence of cancer cells under a microscope.
- Upper endoscopy: This procedure is done using an endoscope (a thin flexible with a camera and light) used to view the inside of the stomach.
- Upper GI series test: This procedure is done after a patient has drank barium which coats the stomach making it more visible on x-ray.
- Other imaging tests: These include computerised tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET).
The treatment of this cancer depends on its origin, which stage it is in, the patient’s age and their overall health. The treatment options for this cancer are:
- Surgery: There are different surgeries that can be done for stomach cancer which include:
1. Surgery to remove the tumour from the stomach lining in its early stage,
2. Surgery to remove the stomach portion that has been affected by the cancer and it is referred to as subtotal gastrectomy,
3. Total gastrectomy which involves removal of the entire stomach and surrounding tissue after which the oesophagus and the small intestine are connected,
- Chemotherapy: This treatment involves using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells and prevent the cancer from continuing to grow. It can also be used to shrink a tumour before surgery, making it easier to remove.
- Radiotherapy: In this treatment option involves using high energy beams to kill the cancer cells. It can also be done to reduce the size of the tumour and
- make it much easier to remove.
- Targeted therapy: It involves using drugs to kill specific cancer calls without causing harm to normal body cells.
- Palliative care: This is also referred to as supportive care and it is aimed at improving the quality of life for people who have widespread stomach cancer.
Prevention of Stomach Cancer
It can be difficult to prevent something if you do not know its exact cause and like many cancers, stomach cancer is one of them. You can however, reduce your risk factors for this cancer by:
- Not smoking
- Eating healthy; more vegetables and fruits and reducing the amount of salted and smoked foods you eat.
- Getting treatment for stomach infections like H. pylori
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Remaining physically active
Being aware of the symptoms of stomach cancer is very important in the early diagnosis and treatment of this cancer. Be careful about what you eat and keen to notice any changes that may require a medical professional’s opinion.