Cancer refers to a condition caused by cells replicating without stopping, which results in tumors growing and invading tissues or organs.
Description and Symptoms
In stomach cancer (gastric cancer) the cells of the stomach‘s wall start to proliferate in an uncontrolled manner.
An initial tumor in the organ can spread to nearby lymph nodes, and eventually to other tissues, such as the liver or lungs (metastasis, giving a secondary tumor).
Different types of cancer can occur in the stomach. The most common is called adenocarcinoma. This cancer starts from one of the kinds of cells found in the lining of the stomach.
Adenocarcinoma is a common cancer of the digestive tract. It is not very common in the United States. It is diagnosed much more often in people of the East of Asia, parts of South America and the center and east of Europe. It occurs almost always in men over 40 years.
In the United States, the number of people with this cancer has declined over the years. Experts think that this decline may be partly due to people eating less cured, salted and smoked foods.
You are more likely to be diagnosed with gastric cancer if:
- You have a diet low in fruits and vegetables.
- You have a family history of this disease.
- You have a stomach infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori.
- You had a polyp over two centimeters in his stomach.
- You have inflammation and swelling of the stomach for a long time (chronic atrophic gastritis).
- You present pernicious anemia.
- You smoke
Symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Persistent Indigestion: Most of us get indigestion from time to time, but if it persists for more than a few weeks it’s a good idea to see a physician.
- Heartburn: This is another common complaint many people get, but again it’s worth checking with a physician if it persists.
- Discomfort in the stomach or feeling full despite only having eaten a little can be signs of stomach cancer.
- Loss of Appetite can occur, along with eventual weight loss.
- Nausea and vomiting may occur.
- Blood in the vomit or the stool can occur when the cancer is relatively advanced. Blood in the stool from stomach cancer tends to be black. Red blood is more likely to be from hemorrhoids or a colon disease.
- Anemia can result if blood loss is high.
Since the symptoms of stomach cancer can be quite mild at first, it’s easy to miss them while the disease is in the early stages.
It is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible if you have the symptoms. Modern diagnostic techniques can determine whether the cause is stomach cancer or some other disease.
Secondary tumors in the liver can give rise to further symptoms, such as dark urine, jaundice, and pain on the right-hand side of the body.
Secondary tumors in the lungs can lead to a wheezing and persistent cough (sometimes accompanied by blood).
Sometimes, people with stomach cancer do not manifest any of these sings.
Stomach cancer is usually not detected at an early stage because it does not cause specific symptoms.
When symptoms occur, they can be somewhat ambiguous. It is important to remember that many other conditions can cause these symptoms too, such as a virus or stomach ulcer.
It is not clear why one person gets stomach cancer and not another. Risk factors include infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, being male, age (higher risk if over 55), smoking, and having a lot of pickled or salted food in the diet.
A Mediterranean diet decreases the risk. Such dietary regime is high in vegetables, fruit, grains, fish, and legumes, but relatively low in meat and dairy products. Olive oil is the primary source of fat, while the person can take alcohol in moderation in the form of red wine.
Tests and exams.
Some often delay the diagnosis because there may be no signs in the early stages of the disease. Also, many symptoms do not specifically target gastric cancer.
Therefore, people often treat themselves the symptoms that gastric cancer has in common with other less severe gastrointestinal disorders (bloating, gas, gastric acidity, and fullness).
Tests that may help diagnose gastric cancer include:
- Complete blood count (CBC) to check for anemia.
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) with biopsy to examine the gastric tissue. EGD involves inserting a tiny camera into the esophagus to look inside the stomach.
- Coprological exam to see if there is blood in the stool.
Surgery is the primary treatment for stomach cancer. If caught early, a small tumor can be removed, together with the inner stomach lining.
When dealing with larger tumors, surgeons should remove part or the whole of the stomach.
If they remove the stomach (total gastrectomy), the esophagus (gullet) is joined directly to the small intestine.
When the disease is too advanced to remove the tumor, surgery may still be used to keep the digestive tract from being blocked.
Chemotherapy is used to shrink tumors and is also sometimes given after surgery to lessen the chances of the cancer returning. Typical agents used include fluorouracil, doxorubicin, and carmustine.
Some, but not all, advanced stomach cancers can be treated using the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab, which increases survival time, although it doesn’t cure the disease.
Surgery to remove the stomach (gastrectomy) is the only treatment that can cure gastric adenocarcinoma.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may help. Receiving these treatments after surgery can improve the chances of a cure.
People who can not have surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy can improve symptoms and may prolong survival, but they probably will not cure cancer.
For some people, a surgical bypass procedure can provide relief of symptoms.
Radiation Therapy is sometimes used to treat stomach cancer.
Stress caused by the disease can be alleviated by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with other people who had similar experiences and problems can help you not to feel alone.
The prognosis varies based on how far cancer has spread to the time of diagnosis. Tumors in the lower part of the stomach usually heal more often than tumors in the upper area.
The possibility of a cure also depends on how far the cancer has invaded the stomach wall and whether it compromised lymph nodes or not.
When the tumor has spread outside the stomach, a cure is not possible. In this case, the goal of treatment is to improve symptoms and prolong life.