What you need to know about Stomach Cancer

Facts & Stats

The stomach in the human body has its inner walls lined with stomach acid and enzymes. These help to break down the food, and ultimately digest it. This arrangement works fine for humans, till the time that cancerous growths begin to form on the inner linings of the stomach. This is the start of stomach cancer. Gradually these cancerous linings grow larger and take the form of a tumour. This then becomes a full blown case of stomach cancer, and it is also referred to as gastric cancer. Compared to the other types of cancer, stomach cancer is relatively rare.

Symptoms

The trouble with stomach cancer, even though it is not too common, is that many of the symptoms are also observed for other common stomach ailments, and therefore might be difficult to diagnose. But it is still good to know about the symptoms, so that you get early warning and can take appropriate action. Here are some of the symptoms of stomach cancer:

  • Pain in the stomach
  • Yellowish eyes or skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • General listlessness and feeling of tiredness
  • Traces of blood in excreta
  • Vomiting
  • Distended belly

Stages

There are five generally accepted stages in the progression of a cancerous growth in the stomach. These stages are medically referred to as Stage 0, Stage I, Stage II, Stage III, and Stage IV. Let us try to briefly define each stage:

Stage 0 – The inner lining of the stomach begins to host some unhealthy cells. These cells have the potential to go on to become cancerous.

Stage I – The unhealthy cells would have developed into tumours at this stage, and might also have spread to lymph nodes.

Stage II – The cancerous growth is observed in the deeper layers of the stomach at this stage, and also into the surrounding lymph nodes.

Stage III – Not only would the entire stomach be affected by now, but even some organs adjoining it, like the spleen or colon might also be affected.

Stage IV – The metastasis would have spread to the liver, lungs or even brain in this stage. This is the terminal stage of stomach cancer.

Causes

No doctor or scientist has yet been able to list down the exact causes of cancer yet. The best that has been done so far is to list down the likeliest risk factors which could cause stomach cancer. The problem is that many of these factors are also believed to cause several other diseases, so the list might not be exclusively for stomach cancer. Smoking, rich diet, and obesity are some of the lifestyle characteristics that can cause cancer. Other suspected causes are past ulcer surgery, Type A blood, Epstein-Barr infection etc.

Diagnosis

The symptoms of stomach cancer can often be like those of other more common stomach ailments, which is why stomach cancer, though rare, is detected quite late. Whether you go to a doctor for a regular cancer screening or in response to any specific symptom, the following are the likely diagnostic methods that the doctor might apply:

  • Simple Blood Tests
  • Upper Endoscopy (inserted from throat)
  • Upper GI series test
  • CT Scan
  • Biopsy

Treatment

The mode and length of treatment would depend on the staging of the cancer that is detected. In the initial stages, a small surgery to remove a part of the stomach is usually enough. If the spread is slightly more, then a course of chemotherapy might be recommended. Additionally, radiation could also be used. Anything beyond that might make treatment very difficult, if not impossible. At this terminal stage, doctors often use other methods to provide relief and to keep the bodily functions running, like installing stents, doing gastric bypass surgery, or ultimately removing part or whole stomach.

Prevention

The best way to prevent stomach cancer is to eat healthy. Your diet should contain as much fruit and vegetables as possible. Foods that are too salty must be avoided, as also too much of processed foods, especially meats or cheeses. An overall healthy lifestyle is very important, with regular exercise and avoidance of tobacco etc. Whenever you have any stomach ailments due to infections etc., you must not ignore them and should get treatment immediately.