Overview and Facts about Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is cancer that derives from the stomach tissue lining. Your stomach is located between your esophagus and small intestine and is responsible for producing digestive juices, such as gastric acid, that aid in your digestive health by helping you break down and digest your food. Stomach cancer is responsible for just under 2% of all cancer cases.
Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
Aside from indigestion and stomach discomfort, individuals with early-stage stomach cancer may show little to no signs of the disease, making stomach cancer difficult to detect in some cases. Therefore, it is important to consult with a physician to determine if stomach cancer is present.
In advanced disease stages, individuals with stomach cancer may experience the following symptoms:
- Feelings of fullness hours after a meal or feeling like food is stuck in the throat while eating
- Stomach bloating after meals
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Nausea and vomiting
Causes and Risk Factors of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer is common in men and in all individuals over the age of 65. Overall, stomach cancer risk can be attributed to lifestyle habits, genetics, and the environment.
Other risk factors include:
- Recurrent Helicobacter pylori infections that cause stomach inflammation or ulcers
- African, Asian, or Hispanic origin or descent
- Exposure to toxic dusts and fumes
- Family history (first-degree relative) of stomach cancer
- Eating a lot of salted, smoked, or pickled foods
Tests and Diagnosis of Stomach Cancer
Endoscopy exams and endoscopic ultrasounds can be used to identify the presence of stomach cancer. Other imaging techniques that may be used to examine the stomach tissue are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) or PET-CT scans. A laparoscopy exam may also be conducted to determine if the cancer has spread to nearby organs, such as the liver.
In some cases, a small sample of the stomach tissue may be removed via a biopsy test to determine if cancer biomarkers are present in the tissue. Blood tests may also be conducted to look for stomach cancer biomarkers.
Treatment and Care for Stomach Cancer
Surgery is often performed to remove cancer tissue from the stomach. At very early stages of the disease, doctors may suggest a non-surgical treatment option called an endoscopic mucosal resection. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also used to destroy cancer cells. Targeted therapies, such as HER2-targeted therapy and anti-angiogenesis therapy, are sometimes used to make the stomach cancer tissue’s environment less hospitable for the cancer tissue’s survival. A novel treatment option called immunotherapy or biologic therapy can help the body’s own defense system (the immune system) destroy stomach cancer cells directly.