What Is Gastric Cancer?
Stomach cancer also called gastric cancer occurs when healthy cells in your stomach change and begins to grow out of control. It appears to deteriorate slowly over many years. It can start in any part of your stomach and spread to other areas of your body, including your bones, liver, and lungs.
This is the most common type of stomach cancer, which comprises of about 95% of all cases. It begins in the tissues of your stomach lining, in the cells that make mucus and other fluids.
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Less common kinds of gastric cancer include ones that start in the cells of your digestive tract carcinoid tumors and gastric sarcoma and lymphomas, which are connected to part of your immune system called lymph nodes.
Stomach Cancer Symptoms
Sometimes, symptoms may not be noticed until it’s spread to another part of your body. But here’s what to look for:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling bloated or full after eating little
- Painful heartburn and indigestion
- Stomach pain
- Black or bloody stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Not being hungry
Who Gets Gastric Cancer?
Men are more likely to get gastric or stomach cancer than women, it’s the 14th most common type of cancer. Scientists believe it may have become less common after refrigerators made it easier to store fruits and vegetables, and people no longer consume much salted and smoked foods.
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
This bacteria which causes ulcers and inflammation in your stomach is one of the main causes of gastric cancer. There are different strains, some of which have a higher risk of cancer. The strain H. Pylori can be detected by running blood tests and can be treated with antibiotics, which may be another reason this kind of cancer is less common now than in the 1930s. The only way to know you have this bacteria is with a blood test.
A person’s chances of having stomach cancer may be higher if they or any member of their family has had a stomach surgery. A few medical conditions such as pernicious anemia – where you have low red blood cells, can raise your chances. Also, familial adenomatous polyposis – when you have polyps in your stomach and colon, can equally raise your chances of getting gastric cancer.
Food and habit that can increase your risk
Your everyday habits can affect your chances of getting gastric cancer. Eating a lot of smoked foods, salted fish and meat, and pickled vegetables can increase your risk, along with eating less fruit and vegetables. You also might be more likely to get it if you drink a lot of alcohol, smoke or are overweight/obese.
Your doctor will want to know about your medical history and lifestyle, and also perform a physical exam. If gastric cancer is suspected, your doctor may suggest you see an gastroenterologist for tests.
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Your doctor will perform an endoscopy, where a tiny camera through a tube will be inserted down your throat to examine your stomach. If anything doesn’t look right, she’ll take a tiny piece of tissue called a biopsy, which will be processed in the lab, to check for cancer cells in the sample under a microscope.
Your doctor might suggest other ways to get a closer look at any tumor. This could be a CT (computerized tomography) scan, when several X-rays are taken from different angles and put together to make a more complete picture. Or you might have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed images
Surgery may come into play depending on where your cancer is, how far it’s advanced. In most cases, surgery to take out the tumor is the first step. Your doctor also might remove part or all of your stomach or take lymph nodes from other parts of your body to check for signs showing if the cancer has spread.
Radiation and Chemotherapy
You also may have radiation therapy (high-powered X-rays) or chemotherapy (powerful drugs) to shrink the tumor before surgery is performed and possibly afterward as well to kill any remaining cancer cells. These two kinds of therapy are often used together.