Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is a malignant tumor arising from the lining of the stomach. There has been a significant decrease in the number of people diagnosed with stomach cancer in the past 60 years. According to the American Cancer Society, the estimated numbers of new cases and deaths from gastric cancer in the United States in 2009 was:

* New cases: 21,130
* Deaths: 10,620

Stomach cancers are classified according to the type of tissue where they originate. The most common type of stomach cancer is adenocarcinoma, which starts in the glandular tissue of the stomach and accounts for 90% to 95% of all stomach cancers. Other forms of stomach cancer include lymphomas, which involve the lymphatic system and sarcomas, which involve the connective tissue (such as muscle, fat, or blood vessels).

Stomach cancer can often be cured if it is found and treated at an early stage. Unfortunately, the outlook is poor if the cancer is already at an advanced stage when discovered.
What Causes Stomach Cancer?

The exact cause of stomach cancer is unknown, but a number of conditions can increase the risk of the disease. These include:

* Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection of the stomach. H. pylori is a bacterium that infects the lining of the stomach and causes chronic inflammation and ulcers.
* Advanced age (an average age of 70 for men and 74 for women).
* Male gender (men have more than double the risk of getting stomach cancer over women.)
* A diet low in fruits and vegetables.
* A diet high in salted, smoked, or preserved foods.
* Chronic gastritis.
* Pernicious anemia.
* Some gastric polyps.
* Family history of gastric cancer (which can double or triple the risk).
* Smoking.

Other people who may be at an increased risk include:

* People who use tobacco or drink alcoholic beverages regularly.
* Workers in certain industries, including those in the coal mining, nickel refining, and rubber and timber processing industries.
* Workers exposed to asbestos fibers.

What Are the Symptoms of Stomach Cancer?

In the early stages of stomach cancer, you may have very few symptoms. These may include:

* Indigestion and stomach discomfort
* A bloated feeling after eating
* Mild nausea
* Loss of appetite
* Heartburn

These symptoms are similar to those caused by a peptic ulcer. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should see a doctor so that a proper diagnosis can be made and timely treatment given. A stomach cancer can grow very large before it causes other symptoms.

In more advanced cancer, you may have:

* Discomfort in the upper or middle part of the abdomen.
* Blood in the stool (which appears as black, tarry stools).
* Vomiting or vomiting blood.
* Weight loss.
* Pain or bloating in the stomach after eating.
* Weakness or fatigue associated with mild anemia (a deficiency in red blood cells).
How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed?

Your doctor can often detect advanced stomach cancer by performing a physical exam. He or she may find enlarged lymph nodes, an enlarged liver, increased fluid in the abdomen (ascites), or abdominal lumps felt during a rectal exam.

However, when a patient reports initial vague symptoms, such as indigestion, weight loss, nausea, and loss of appetite, a doctor may order screening tests. These tests include:

* Upper GI series . These are X-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the intestine taken after the patient drinks a barium solution. The barium outlines the stomach on the X-ray, which helps the doctor, using special imaging equipment, to find tumors or other abnormal areas.
* Gastroscopy and biopsy. This test examines the esophagus and stomach using a thin, lighted tube called a gastroscope, which is passed through the mouth to the stomach. Through the gastroscope, the doctor can look directly at the inside of the stomach. If an abnormal area is found, the doctor will remove some tissue to be examined under a microscope. A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose cancer. Gastroscopy and biopsy are the best methods of identifying stomach cancer.

Once stomach cancer is diagnosed, more tests may be done to determine if the cancer has spread.
How Is Stomach Cancer Treated?

Stomach cancer may be treated with the following, in combination, or alone:

* Surgery, called gastrectomy, to remove all or part of the stomach, as well as some of the tissue surrounding the stomach.
* Chemotherapy.
* Radiation therapy.

What Is the Prognosis for People With Stomach Cancer?

Stomach cancer is difficult to cure unless it is found at an early stage before it has spread. Unfortunately, because early stomach cancer has few symptoms, the disease is usually advanced when the diagnosis is made. However, advanced stomach cancer can be treated and the symptoms can be relieved.