Stomach Cancer

When diagnosed early, stomach cancer is readily treatable. You can reduce your risk of the disease by making a few changes in your lifestyle.

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What is Stomach Cancer?

The stomach is located in our upper abdomen and is part of our digestive system. It connects the oesophagus (gullet) with the small intestine. It acts as a food reservoir, mixes the food ingested and secretes liquid substances that aid digestion. Stomach cancer usually occurs when cells in the inner layer of the stomach wall grow and divide without stopping. Over time, these cells will form lumps called tumours and the cancer may invade more deeply into the stomach wall. 

Related: Cancer 

Types of Stomach Cancer 

Adenocarcinomas: this is the most common type of stomach cancer and it arises from the glandular cells in the stomach lining 
Lymphomas: these arise from the lymphatic tissue (immune-related tissues) in the stomach wall and are associated with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection  
Carcinoid tumours: these are cancers arising from various hormone-producing cells in the stomach lining
Gastrointestinal stromal tumours: these arise from certain specialised cells in the nerve supply of the stomach

Stomach Cancer Risk Factors 

Various risk factors for stomach cancer include:
H. pylori infection
Nitrates and nitrites: these are nitrogen-based chemicals that are added to certain foods such as ham and bacon, hot dogs and deli meats
Red meats and salted, pickled or smoked foods
Tobacco and alcohol use
Male gender: men have twice the risk of stomach cancer compared to women
Stomach polyps
Previous stomach surgery
Family history
Pernicious anaemia

Stomach Cancer Symptoms 

Bleeding is an early sign of stomach cancer, and this is usually detected by tests that check for blood in the stool.

Other symptoms include:
Abdominal discomfort aggravated by eating or feeling full after eating small amounts of food
Heartburn
Black, tarry stools
Vomiting blood 
Weight loss and loss of appetite

Stomach Cancer Screening and Diagnosis 

Simple diagnostic tests for stomach cancer include:
Endoscopy: your doctor uses an endoscope (a flexible tube with a miniature camera attached to the end) to look directly at the stomach. If necessary, the doctor can take a small sample of the tissue (a biopsy) to be examined. The endoscope is inserted through the mouth into the stomach. 
Barium X-rays: you will have to swallow a liquid containing barium (barium is a metallic compound that shows up in X-rays). X-ray pictures will then be taken when the barium flows down to the stomach and reveals the structure and abnormalities of the stomach. The test will take about 15 minutes and it is not painful. If a cancer is found, other tests are required to find out whether it has spread to other organs. 
Computerised tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests

Stomach Cancer Treatment 

There are different treatments available for stomach cancer depending on the stage, type and the position of the stomach cancer. Factors other than the stage of the cancer that might have an impact on your treatment decision include the patient’s age, overall health, and own preferences. The three main types of treatment include:

Surgery

Surgery is the most important treatment for stomach cancer in the early stages (where cancer is confined to the stomach). The most common treatment is called gastrectomy. There are two types: 
Partial gastrectomy: the removal of part of the stomach. The remaining portion of the stomach is then reconnected to the oesophagus or the small intestine. 
Total gastrectomy: the removal of the entire stomach. The intestine is then reconnected directly to the oesophagus. The lymph glands (nodes) close to the stomach will also be removed during the surgery. If the cancer is too bulky to be removed, a connection will be made between the stomach and small intestine. This will relieve the symptoms but will not cure the cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to help kill cancer cells and shrink the size of the tumour. It can be given alone, or combined with radiotherapy before or after surgery. It is also the treatment of choice if the patient is not suitable for surgery.

The drugs are given into a vein or by mouth. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body. In stomach cancer, multiple chemotherapy sessions are usually required.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or to keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy — external and internal. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Radiation is usually administrated after surgery together with chemotherapy to kill very small remnants of the cancer that cannot be seen and removed during surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to ease the symptoms of advanced stomach cancer. 

Stomach Cancer Prevention 

If you are at high risk of developing stomach cancer, you may reduce your risk by taking a few measures which include:
Avoiding foods, such as processed meats, which have a high content of nitrates and nitrites
Reducing your intake of smoked, pickled and heavily salted foods
Consuming a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables 

Related: My Healthy Plate 

If you have symptoms of an ulcer or have been diagnosed with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, you should see a doctor for treatment of the symptoms and eradication of the infection.



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