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The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 24,000 new cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually. Also known as gastric cancer, stomach cancer can develop in any part of the stomach and may spread to other organs. Carcinoma of the stomach is the second most common gastrointestinal cancer in this country. Although its incidence has declined in recent years, gastric carcinoma remains a significant threat, responsible for over 13,000 deaths annually.
Q. What is stomach cancer?
A. The stomach is a muscular bag that lies between the esophagus and the small intestine. Its inner walls are composed of glands that secrete acid and digestive enzymes. The most common form of cancer that affects the stomach is adenocarcinoma. This tumor tends to spread through the wall of the stomach and from there into the adjoining organs and lymph nodes. It can spread through the bloodstream and lymph system to distant organs.
Q. Who is at risk of getting stomach cancer?
A. Researchers believe that some people that have a genetic factor are more susceptible to the disease. A person that has H.pylori along with a form of a gene that causes low stomach acid, greatly increases the risk of getting stomach cancer. Some of the other contributing risk factors include:
- Gender: Men are afflicted twice as often as women
- Age: Most patients who are diagnosed with stomach cancer are between 50-80.
- Ethnicity: Stomach cancer is more common in people from certain parts of the world such as Japan, Korea, parts of Eastern Europe and Latin America
- Environmental Exposure: Certain workplace contaminants, including coal dust, asbestos and nickel, have been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer
- Weight: Men weighing 25 to 30 pounds over their ideal weight may be at increased risk
- Diet: A diet high in foods preserved by smoking, salting, or pickling increase your risk of stomach cancer.
- Tobacco Use: In 2004, the Surgeon General issued a report linking smoking to a range of diseases, including stomach cancer.
- Family History: Patients that have parents or siblings with stomach cancer are more likely to get it.
- Stomach Polyps: Small growths in the lining of the stomach. Most are benign, but polyps larger than 1 cm are often precancerous.
- Previous stomach surgery: The risk of stomach cancer may increase in people who have had a part of their stomach and the opening of the small intestine removed.
- Blood Type: For unknown reasons, people with type A blood have a somewhat higher risk of stomach cancer than people with other blood types.
Q. Is there any way to prevent stomach cancer?
A. Although it may not be possible to prevent stomach cancer, the following steps can help reduce your risk:
- Emphasize fruits and vegetables
- Avoid nitrites and nitrates
- Limit smoked, pickled and heavily salted foods
- Don't smoke
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Limit red meat
- See your doctor if you suspect ulcers
Q. What are the symptoms for stomach cancer?
A. The earliest sign of stomach tumors is microscopic internal bleeding. This is usually only detected by tests that check the stool for blood. When the cancer is more advanced you may experience signs and symptoms such as:
- Discomfort in the upper or middle region of your abdomen that may not be relieved by food or antacids
- Abdominal discomfort aggravated by eating
- Black, tarry stool
- vomiting of blood
- vomiting after meals
- Weakness, fatigue and weight loss
- Full feeling after meals even when you eat very little
Q. How is stomach cancer diagnosed?
A. To help diagnose stomach cancer and rule out the other possibilities, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
- Upper endoscopy: This procedure allows your doctor to see abnormalities in your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract that may not be visible on X-rays.
- Stomach X-ray (barium upper GI series): This test uses a series of X-rays to examine your esophagus, your stomach and the first part of your small intestine.
- Endoscopic ultrasound: This test helps determine whether cancer has spread into the walls of your stomach or to nearby tissues and lymph nodes.
- Computerized tomography scan: Used to help check for the spread of cancer outside the stomach, especially to organs such as the liver and lungs.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test also looks for the spread of cancer beyond your stomach.
- Chest X-ray: This test checks whether cancer has spread to your lungs but isn't as sensitive as a CT scan.
Q. How is stomach cancer treated?
A. The kind of treatment you receive for stomach cancer depends on a number of factors such as, the location of the cancer, how advanced the cancer is, your overall health and your preferences. The goal of treatment is to eliminate the cancer completely. When that isn't possible, the focus may be on preventing the tumor from growing or causing more harm. Treatment options include the following:
- Surgery: This is the most common treatment for stomach cancer. The extent of the cancer will determine if your physician will remove part or all of your stomach as well as some of the surrounding tissue. When the stomach cancer is caught at an early stage and your surgeon is able to remove the entire tumor, a complete recovery is possible.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to control cancer growth, prolong life or relieve symptoms of advanced disease. Physicians tend to use chemotherapy in conjunction with other treatments. A 2006 study found that people whose stomach cancer hadn't spread had better outcomes when chemotherapy was used both before and after surgery to remove the cancer.
- Radiation therapy: This therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, which affects your entire body, radiation only affects those parts of your body through which the radiation beam passes.
- Drug therapy: The FDA approved the anti-leukemia drug (Gleevec) to treat some gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Gleevec belongs to a new class of medications that specifically target cancer cells but leave healthy tissue relatively untouched. It is only approved for gastrointestinal stromal tumors. It is not effective in all cases.
This report is intended for patient education and information only. It does not constitute advice, nor should it be taken to suggest or replace professional medical care from your physician. Your treatment options may vary, depending upon medical history and current condition. Only your physician and you can determine your best option.