Stomach cancer

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Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a cancer that takes place in the stomach. The stomach is the muscular sac found in the upper middle part of a person’s abdomen, under the ribs. It is part of the digestive system.

Contents

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of stomach cancer may include the following:

  • Easily gets tired /Fatigue
  • Bloated feeling after meals
  • Feeling full after light meals
  • Discomfort or pain in the stomach area
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting blood or presence of blood in the waste
  • Loss of weight

The symptoms above may not necessarily be due to cancer. These may also be due to other health problems such as ulcer or infection. A person who experiences the symptoms above should consult the doctor for proper diagnosis and undergo treatment as early as possible.

Causes and risk factors

Physicians rarely know the reason why some people develop cancer and others don’t. However, doctors know that some people with certain risk factors are more susceptible to developing stomach cancer than others.

The following risk factors are associated with stomach cancer:

  • Helicobacter pylori infection – The H. pylori is a type of bacterium that commonly affects the inner lining of the stomach. This kind of infection may lead to conditions such as stomach inflammation and [peptic ulcer|peptic ulcers]]. It may increase a person’s risk of developing stomach cancer, however, only a few number of infected individuals actually develop stomach cancer.
  • Long-term inflammation of the stomach – People with this condition have higher risk of getting stomach cancer. People who have undergone surgery to remove part of their stomach may be prone to stomach inflammation and stomach cancer. Such an individual may still be prone to stomach cancer many years after the surgery.
  • Family history – Close relatives (e.g. parents, siblings, or children) of a person with a history of stomach cancer are susceptible to develop the same cancer. The risk is higher if many close relatives have history of stomach cancer.
  • Smoking – People who smoke are more prone to stomach cancer compare to those who don’t. Individuals who smoke heavily have higher risk.
  • Poor diet – Diet which is high in food that are smoked, salted, or pickled may increase a person’s risk for stomach cancer. A healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables can lower one’s risk.
  • Lack of physical activity and obesity – These two conditions may increase a person’s risk for developing cancer in the upper stomach area.

Diagnosis and tests

A person who experiences symptoms associated with stomach cancer should seek medical attention to determine if the symptoms are due to cancer or something else. One is likely to see a family doctor or general practioner first. If the doctor suspects stomach problem, he may refer the person to a gastroenterologist, a doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating digestive problems.

The gastroenterologist will most probably ask about one’s personal and family health history. The physician may also require the following:

  • Laboratory tests – The doctor may require the patient to undergo lab tests such as blood test.
  • Physical exam –The doctor may feel the patient’s abdomen for signs of fluid, swelling, or other changes. The doctor may also check for presence of swollen lymph nodes.
  • Endoscopy – This procedure allows the doctor to look inside the stomach using an endoscope (thin, lighted tube). The tube is passed through the mouth and esophagus in order to reach the stomach.
  • Biopsy – The endoscope is capable of removing tissue from the stomach. A pathologist will study the sample tissue under a microscope for presence of cancer cells.
  • Imaging tests – Example of Imaging test include computerized tomography (CT) and a special type of X-ray sometimes called a barium swallow. Such tests help look for presence of stomach cancer.

Treatment

The treatment for stomach cancer may depend on the patient’s cancer stage, general health and personal preferences. Stomach cancer treatment may include:

  • Surgery – This procedure aims to remove all of the traces of stomach cancer. According to the Department of Health, surgery is the most effective method for treating stomach cancer.
  • Radiation therapy – This treatment uses high-powered beams of energy to eradicate cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used before the patient undergoes surgery (neoadjuvant radiation) so that the present stomach tumor can decrease in size and be easily removed surgically. It may also be used after the patient’s surgery (adjuvant radiation) to kill any remaining cancer cells in the stomach. Radiation may be combined with chemotherapy. Possible side effects of radiation therapy are diarrhea, indigestion, nausea and vomiting.
  • Chemotherapy – This is a drug treatment that makes use of chemicals to kill cancer cells. The drugs go through the body of the patient, killing cancer cells that might have reached other areas aside from the stomach. Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the types of drugs used in the treatment.
  • Clinical trials – This involve new treatments and methods of using existing treatments. Clinical trials do not guarantee patients that their cancer will be cured.

Prevention and control

There is no known effective primary prevention method or early detection of stomach cancer based on the Department of Health. The best possible way to increase chances of survival is for symptomic patients to get an early diagnosis of their condition.

Patients, especially those over 50 years old who experiences vague epigastric symptoms, unexplained anemia, and undetermined causes of weight loss should go through endoscopic studies.

It is also advisable to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking.

Cases in the Philippines

Stomach cancer is among the leading causes of death in the Philippines. According to the DOH, stomach cancer is the 8th leading cancer overall: 6th among males and 10th among females. In 1998, report estimate that 2,563 new cases (1,511 among males and 1,052 among females) will arise while 1,484 deaths will occur. The risk becomes higher once an individual reaches the age of 50.

References