National Cancer Survivors Day (7 June): Stomach Cancer Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

Shivangi Karn

National Cancer Survivors Day (NCSD) is celebrated every year around the world on 7 June. The celebrations on this day are to honour cancer survivors and discuss ongoing challenges they have faced while coping with cancer. The day is meant to inspire others by the success stories of people who have survived from the condition. NCSD also focuses on early diagnosis and treatment for cancer.

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer is the cancer of the lining of the stomach and the third leading cause of cancer-based mortality. According to the WHO, there are around 800,000 deaths worldwide in the year 2018 due to stomach cancer.

The cancer type is life-threatening due to its late diagnosis. This is the reason why stomach cancer is common in older people above 60. Take a look at its causes, symptoms, treatment and management.

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Stomach Cancer Types

Common types of stomach cancer include:

1. Gastric lymphoma: It accounts for 4-5 per cent of stomach cancers. It occurs in lymph tissues or germ-fighting cells of the stomach. [1]
2. Gastric adenocarcinomas: It starts in the mucous glands of the stomach.
3. Gastrointestinal stromal tumour: It occurs in the special cells of the stomach lining.
4. Carcinoid tumour: It is found in the stomach neuroendocrine cells responsible for producing hormones. It is considered dangerous as the cancerous cells spread to nearby organs.

Causes Of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer is caused when healthy cells of the stomach become cancerous and start growing abnormally, leading to a tumour. Several factors cause healthy stomach cells to become cancerous.

According to the American Cancer Society, the first reason is chronic atrophic gastritis in which the mucous membrane of the stomach gets inflamed due to bacterial infection caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium. Another cause is an autoimmune reaction in which the immune system of a person attacks the stomach cells, thinking them as a foreign substance. [2]

Some scientific studies talk about foods such as preserved meats which may cause stomach cancer. It happens when the H. pylori bacteria converts such foods into harmful chemicals that mutate the DNA of the cells present in the stomach. In some cases, inherited genes are also the cause of cancer.

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Symptoms Of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer progresses slowly and diagnosed in late years. Some of the early symptoms of gastric cancer include:

  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Feeling of fullness even after having small meals.
  • Frequent indigestion and heartburn
  • Vomiting that contains blood (advanced stage) [3]
  • Nausea
  • Frequent pain in the stomach above the navel
  • Unexplained weight loss (advanced stage)
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Feeling that food is stuck in the throat while eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness (advanced stage)

Risk Factors Of Stomach Cancer

  • Gender (male) [4]
  • Age(older than 60)
  • Tobacco and alcohol consumption [5]
  • Having a history of cancer or stomach cancer in the family
  • Race (Being Asian American, African American, Hispanic American and Pacific Islander)
  • Long term exposure to H pylori bacteria
  • A condition named mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma
  • Eating large amount of salted fish, smoked foods, pickled vegetables or foods that contain a large number of nitrates or nitrites.
  • Stomach surgery that had caused the removal of certain stomach parts.
  • People with pernicious anaemia (absence of intrinsic factor that prevents the absorption of vitamin B12) [6]
  • People with type A blood group
  • Stomach polyps
  • Working in coal, rubber or metal industries

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Diagnosis Of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer does not show symptoms at an early stage. Therefore, when it is diagnosed, cancer is mainly found in an advanced form. Common diagnosis methods include:

  • Endoscopy: A process in which a thin tube containing a camera is inserted in the stomach via throat to look for cancerous cells. [7]
  • Biopsy: Here, a small tissue of the suspected area in the stomach is collected and viewed for signs of cancer.
  • Blood tests: To calculate normal cells count in the blood. If it is less, there are chances of anaemia which may lead to stomach cancer.
  • Barium swallow: A special type of x-ray imaging test in which a closure look of the stomach is taken for detecting cancer cells.
  • CT scan: To get a clearer view of the stomach. Another imaging test includes positron emission tomography (PET).
  • Liver function tests: To check if the cancer of the stomach has spread to the liver.

Treatment Of Stomach Cancer

Treatment of stomach cancer is totally based on the stage of cancer, age of a person and his/her overall health condition. Common treatment methods include: [8]

  • Surgery: It includes removal of tiny tumours, part of the stomach or whole stomach according to the seriousness of the condition.
  • Chemotherapy: Using certain cytotoxic medications to prevent the growth and multiplication of cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Using radioactive rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Medications to prevent the immune system from attacking normal stomach cells.

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Stomach Cancer Prevention

If stomach cancer is due to genetic or hereditary factors, it cannot be prevented. Lifestyle factors such as smoking that may lead to gastric cancer can be prevented. Some important ways to lower the risk of stomach cancer include:

  • Include more fruits and vegetables in the diet. [9]
  • Avoiding foods such as smoked foods, red meats and salted fish.
  • Eating foods rich in vitamin A, C and E and selenium.
  • Quitting smoking and drinking alcohol (or reducing the use)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight by regular exercises or yoga
  • Drinking antioxidant-rich tea daily.

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Common FAQs

1. Can stomach cancer be cured?

Like diabetes, stomach cancer is also a lifelong condition that cannot be cured but, its symptoms can be managed to improve the quality of life. If a person has a first stage stomach cancer, it may get cured by certain treatment methods like chemotherapy.

2. How long do you have to live if you have stomach cancer?

The survival rate is five years for a specific stage of stomach cancer in around 70 per cent of the population. This is because stomach cancer is mainly diagnosed at the last stage. However, people can live longer than that and can even get cured depending on their condition.

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