Stomach Cancer

Stomach Cancer: An Overview Image

Cancer of the stomach, also called “gastric cancer,” is rare in the United States, with about 21,000 new cases each year–mostly in people over the age of 70, according to the National Cancer Institute (n.d.). However, stomach cancer is the fourth most common cancer around the world and the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (2010).

Stomach cancer is typically caused by tumors called “adenocarcinomas” that develop in the innermost lining (mucosa) of the stomach. Adenocarcinomas account for 90 to 95 percent of stomach cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (2010); other types of stomach cancer are rare.

Stomach Cancer Symptoms

In its early stages, gastric cancer often has no apparent symptoms. When stomach cancer symptoms do occur, they may be mistaken for signs of a stomach virus or an ulcer, and can include:

  • A bloated feeling, especially after eating
  • Blood in the stool
  • Discomfort or pain in the stomach/abdomen
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite.

Early screening for gastric cancer is common in Japan, which has a high rate of the disease, but not in the United States. However, if you have certain risk factors, such as a high-salt diet, an H. pylori infection or a family history of stomach cancer, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about regular screening.

The main test used to diagnose and screen for cancer of the stomach is an upper endoscopy, during which a doctor passes a thin, flexible, lighted tube down your throat to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach and upper part of the small intestine.

Stomach Cancer Treatment

Treating cancer of the stomach depends on the location and stage of the cancer. The primary conventional treatments–which are often combined–are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery is often a necessity to treat stomach cancer, and can range from removal of the tumor to total removal of the stomach, depending on the stage of the disease.

Stomach Cancer Prevention

According to the Mayo Clinic (2009), the three most important steps for preventing cancer of the stomach are:

  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Eating fewer salty and smoked foods
  • Quitting smoking if you’re a smoker.

If you’re at high risk of developing gastric cancer, educating yourself about early symptoms and getting screened regularly can be key steps in prevention.

Additionally, researchers are looking at antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E) for general cancer prevention and antibiotics to prevent stomach cancer in people with H. pylori. However, this research is currently inconclusive.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Stomach cancer. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/StomachCancer/DetailedGuide/stomach-cancer-what-is-stomach-cancer

International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2010). Stomach cancer incidence and mortality worldwide in 2008 summary. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from http://globocan.iarc.fr/factsheets/cancers/stomach.asp

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Stomach cancer. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stomach-cancer/DS00301

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Stomach (gastric) cancer. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/stomach