Although stomach cancer, known medically as gastric cancer. This variation in the occurrence of stomach cancer is likely due to differences in diet, the rate of infection with Helicobacter pylori and environment. Treatment success and survival rates among stomach cancer patients have been hindered because the presence of stomach cancer most often is not recognized until the disease has spread. This is partly due to the absence of noticeable symptoms during the early stages of cancer development in the stomach. And when symptoms do become evident, they initially may be mistaken for other less serious stomach problems, such as indigestion and heartburn, further delaying diagnosis and treatment.
Most cancerous stomach tumors are adenocarcinomas, which develop in the cells of the stomach’s lining, often following a precancerous change in this lining.
Although stomach cancer usually finds its start within the interior layer of the five-layer stomach, it can develop anywhere in the organ and spread to other parts of the body by growing beyond the stomach wall, entering the bloodstream or reaching the lymphatic system.
Because adenocarcinomas make up the vast majority of stomach cancer cases, other types of stomach cancer are considered rare, including:
Because many symptoms of stomach cancer are commonly experienced and may be indicative of a stomach virus or other minor condition, people suffering from them may be hesitant to seek medical advice, opting instead to ignore the symptoms. Even though a stomach cancer diagnosis is unlikely in most cases, individuals should contact a doctor when they consistently experience the following:
A popular explanation for the decrease in the number of stomach cancer diagnoses in the United States and other countries involves improved nutrition due to the proliferation of refrigeration during the past century, which has fostered an increase in the availability of fresh foods at the expense of the once-common pickled, dried and smoked fare that heads the list of dietary risk factors.
Another explanation focuses on the broader use of antibiotics in developed countries, which may play a beneficial role in reducing the stomach-dwelling Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a co-factor in the development of stomach carcinoma and a cause of stomach infection in many developing countries where substandard hygiene conditions exist.
Being aware of and/or mitigating the following risk factors may help prevent stomach cancer:
Diet: The intake of foods preserved through pickling, salting and drying appears to increase the likelihood of stomach cancer, whereas eating substantial quantities of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods likely reduces the risk. Men who are very overweight or obese appear to have a higher risk of cancer in the part of the stomach nearest the esophagus. Scientists are not sure whether obesity increases a woman’s risk of stomach cancer.
Helicobacter pylori: Infection of the stomach by H. pylori bacteria, a common cause of ulcers, is believed to significantly increase one’s cancer risk.
Tobacco and alcohol abuse: According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use causes about one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States, and both smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol appear to increase the likelihood of cancer in the upper part of the stomach.
Genetic disposition: Immediate family members of those diagnosed with stomach cancer are at increased risk for developing the disease. Other genetic risk factors include hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome, conditions that result in a predisposition to cancer. Having type A blood appears to slightly increase the risk for stomach cancer.
Medical Conditions: People with pernicious anemia are 5 to 10% more likely to develop stomach cancer. Those with chronic stomach inflammation and intestinal polyps are also at increased risk for the disease.
Gender: The majority of stomach cancer patients are male.
Age: Most individuals who develop stomach cancer are older than 55 years of age.
Ethnicity: In the U.S., stomach cancer occurs more frequently in Hispanic Americans and African Americans than in non-Hispanic whites, and it is most common in Asian/Pacific Islanders.
Environment: Because the number of stomach cancer cases varies dramatically from one part of the world to another, there may be an environmental component to stomach cancer risk that goes beyond nutrition. It is known that workers in the rubber, metal, coal and timber industries, as well as those who have been exposed to asbestos fibers, have a higher risk for stomach cancer.
Preliminary diagnostic tests for stomach cancer may include:
For patients at increased risk for stomach cancer, additional tests may be ordered. These may include endoscopic examination, which is performed using a thin tube inserted via the mouth and esophagus into the stomach. The instrument can illuminate the stomach’s interior and provide images that can be analyzed by doctors, and it can also collect cell samples from the stomach for lab analysis. Additionally, doctors can use the endoscopy tube to perform ultrasonic scans of the stomach.
Beyond endoscopy, doctors have other diagnostic tools at their disposal, several of which feature imaging techniques that make use of new and enhanced technology. Included are CT (computed tomography) scans that augment traditional X-rays by obtaining numerous images and combining them via computer to provide doctors a more complete view of their subject, which aids them in treating the disease.
Treatments for gastric cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These treatments may be given alone or in combination with one another. Treatment for gastric cancer depends on the size, location and stage of the cancer, along with your general health.
Common treatment options include:
Surgery is a common treatment for early stage gastric cancer. Types of stomach cancer surgery include:
Gastrectomy: involves part or all of the stomach being removed.
Subtotal Gastrectomy: includes removing the cancerous part of the stomach, nearby lymph nodes (tissues that filter infection and disease) and parts of other organs near the tumor.
Total Gastrectomy: involves removing the entire stomach, nearby lymph nodes and parts of the esophagus and small intestine. The esophagus is reconnected to the small intestine so the patient can continue to eat and swallow.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Your doctor may use one drug or a combination of drugs to treat your cancer. These drugs enter the blood and reach all areas of the body, making this treatment useful for cancer that has spread beyond the stomach. Chemotherapy can be given several ways, such as intravenously or by mouth. A common method is through a central venous catheter, a flexible tube that is placed in a large vein to deliver fluids and medications.
Since chemotherapy medications may affect some healthy cells as well as cancer cells, side effects may occur. Medications are available that can reduce the severity of side effects. Common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss and low blood counts that may increase the risk of infections and bleeding. You will receive detailed information and instruction about the chemotherapy medications your doctor has prescribed.
Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation can only affect cancer cells in the treated area. External beam radiation therapy is radiation delivered from a machine outside the body.
Chemoradiation for stomach cancer combines radiation therapy and chemotherapy to prevent tumor growth and to reduce symptoms resulting from the tumor.
Cancer is a journey that no one needs to take alone. There are many forms of support to help you through every stage: diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Whether you meet with other cancer survivors like yourself, use complementary therapies or individual coping mechanisms, help is available in many forms. Listed below are just some of the ways to find help...and hope.
Getting together with other cancer patients in a support group is a valuable coping tool. Support groups are usually focused on a single disease or topic, such as breast cancer survivors or people coping with life-changing side effects from their cancer or cancer therapy. These groups allow participants to meet others like themselves and seek strength from each other. Most major cities and cancer hospitals offer support groups that meet weekly or monthly. There are also dozens of online support web sites or message boards for those who may not have access to a traditional meeting.
Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with cancer treatment, in an effort to reduce treatment side effects, ease depression and anxiety and help cancer patients take their mind off the negative aspects of their situation. Complementary therapies may include mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi and Qi gong; visualization or guided imagery; using art or music as therapy and self-expression; and traditional Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.
Staying physically active as much as possible during cancer treatment has many positive benefits. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone that helps elevate mood, as well as decreasing feelings of fatigue.
Exercises for cancer patients can range from simple stretches done in the bed or chair, to more active pursuits such as walking or light gardening work. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Check with your doctor before attempting any physical activity to make sure you are up to it.
Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cancer treatment experience. It may be as simple as recording symptoms and side effects into a notebook, or may include personal emotions and opinions about what they may be going through. Journals can be private, like a diary, or shared with loved ones and even strangers.
Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet to share their cancer journey with the world at large and to seek out others with similar experiences. Many cancer patients have begun their own web log, or “blog” to publicize their battle with cancer. Twitter, a mini-blogging technology that limits posts to 140 characters, has also proven to be a helpful tool for cancer patients to keep friends updated and reach out to others.