Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, affects the stomach and is found in the upper part of the abdomen and just below the ribs. The stomach is part of the body’s digestive system. It produces acids and enzymes that break down food before passing it to the small intestine. The cancer can develop in any part of the stomach and spread up towards the esophagus (the tube that connects mouth to the stomach) or down into the small intestine.
Causes of Stomach Cancer(Gastric Cancer)
Several risk factors have been identified, including:
- diets high in foods that are preserved by drying, smoking or salting
- diet low in vegetables and fruits
- cigarette smoking
- alcohol use
- gastric atrophy
- family history of stomach cancer
- previous stomach surgery
- history of Helicobacter pylori infection
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer (Gastric Cancer)
In the early stages of gastric cancer, the following symptoms may occur:
- Indigestion and stomach discomfort.
- A bloated feeling after eating.
- Mild nausea.
- Loss of appetite.
In more advanced stages of gastric cancer, the following signs and symptoms may occur:
- Blood in the stool.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
- Stomach pain.
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin).
- Ascites (build-up of fluid in the abdomen).
- Trouble swallowing.
Stages of Stomach Cancer (Gastric Cancer)
- stage 0: the cancer has not spread beyond the surface layer of stomach tissue
- stage 1: the cancer has spread just underneath the first layer of stomach tissue but hasn’t yet invaded the muscles
- stage 2: the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes near the stomach or the main muscle layer
- stage 3: the cancer has spread through the muscle and to the lymph nodes but not to any organs, or it may be in nearby tissue but not in any lymph nodes
- stage 4: the cancer has spread completely through the stomach wall, lymph nodes, and organs
- recurrent: cancer has returned after treatment
Treatment and Prevention
Stomach cancer is usually only detected once it has progressed or spread, making treatment more difficult. As with most cancers, the treatment options are radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of the three.
Treatment for stages 0 and 1 usually involves only surgery, often a partial gastrectomy (where part of the stomach is removed). If needed, the abdominal lymph nodes may also be removed. For stages 2 and 3, a gastrectomy is done along with removal of abdominal lymph nodes. To reduce the very high recurrence rate, doctors often recommend additional chemotherapy and radiotherapy after surgery.
For stage 4, treatment is aimed at easing the symptoms. This can involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Surgery is the most common treatment for gastric cancer, and usually a gastrectomy is performed. If the cancer was caught early enough, the surgeon may be able to remove only a part of the stomach, called a partial or subtotal gastrectomy. If the entire stomach is removed, this is called a total gastrectomy.
Following a gastrectomy, nutrition becomes an issue. For those who have had a partial gastrectomy, a fairly normal diet might be resumed after healing, but for patients who have had a total gastrectomy, certain changes need to be made because the food will now go straight from the esophagus to the small intestine. One example is vitamin supplementation. A monthly injection of vitamin B12 may be needed since it can’t be absorbed from the diet.
Chemotherapy involves taking medication to fight the cancer. In stomach cancer, the chemotherapy is generalized or systemic, and is usually taken intravenously, but can be administered orally in some cases.
Radiation therapy is an external treatment to kill the cancer cells. The radiation is aimed directly at the tumours in an effort to shrink them. Radiotherapy may be done before surgery in some cases to shrink the tumour.
Prevention of Stomach Cancer (Gastric Cancer)
- Stop smoking.
- Keep a healthy, balanced diet
- Don’t abuse alcohol
- Be aware of the risk factors
- Talk to your doctor about any concerns or symptoms