Stomach cancer begins when a mutation causes a cancerous cell to grow and divide at a rapid rate. The cancer can develop in any part of the stomach and spread to other organs, such as the liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, ovaries, and lymph nodes.
The exact causes of stomach cancer are currently not known. However, factors which increase the risk of stomach cancer include:
- Age: Older people have a greater risk of developing stomach cancer.
- Gender: Stomach cancer is more than twice as common in men.
- Family History: People with a family history of stomach cancer have a greater risk.
- Race: It is more common in Asia than in Europe and the United States.
- Foods: Pickled, salted and smoked foods may increase the risk of stomach cancer. Fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk.
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori: This bacterium causes inflammation and peptic ulcers, which may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Underlying Conditions: Previous stomach operations or underlying conditions, such as anemia and chronic stomach inflammation, produce a higher risk of stomach cancer.
- Occupation: Exposure to certain chemicals and dust is positively associated with stomach cancer.
- Lifestyle: Alcohol, tobacco, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Obesity: There is evidence suggesting men who are overweight may have an increased risk of stomach cancer. However there is no correlation between obesity and stomach cancer in women.
There are usually no noticeable symptoms during the early stage of stomach cancer. However, the symptoms in the advanced stage are similar to those caused by other conditions, such as peptic ulcer and viral gastroenteritis.
In the advanced stage, symptoms may include:
- Abdominal discomfort, especially in the upper and middle part of the abdomen
- Blood in the stool
- Vomiting that may contain blood
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain or bloating after eating
In general, if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately:
- Indigestion or abdominal discomfort
- Abdominal bloating after eating
- Slight nausea
- Loss of appetite
- The doctor will check the patient’s history and conduct a physical examination
- The patient will be given a mixture of barium and water to drink. The barium
- temporarily coats the gullet, stomach and small intestine. X-ray images can then show up any tumors or abnormalities.
- An upper GI endoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to examine the lining of the stomach and remove a sample of abnormal tissue for further examination.
- An endoscopic ultrasound can help the doctor to evaluate how much the stomach cancer has grown and whether it has spread to nearby organs.
- A lung x-ray is used to detect any abnormality in the lungs and check whether the cancer has spread to this area.
- A computerized tomography (CT) scan generates three-dimensional images of internal organs and enables the doctor to observe the location and spread of the disease much more definitively than from a standard x-ray.
The treatment of stomach cancer involves the collaboration of a team of medical professionals from various fields, such as surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists, who together will plan the most suitable treatment for each patient. The choice of treatment depends on:
- Size, location and appearance of the cancerous cells
- Stage and spread of the cancer
- Patient’s overall health