Your oesophagus and stomach are the upper section of your digestive tract. Your stomach is responsible for digesting food and moving the nutrients to your small and large intestines.
WHAT IS STOMACH CANCER?
Stomach cancer is also known as gastric cancer. It happens when healthy cells in the upper digestive system turn cancerous and start multiplying out of control and form a tumour. This is a slow process so stomach cancer tends to develop over many years.
Any of the cells lining the stomach wall can become cancerous and can form a mass or ulcer in the stomach or the disease can spread throughout the entire wall of the stomach.
A high percentage of patients with stomach cancer become infected with Helicobacter Pylori. However, most people of who have this bacterium do not develop stomach cancer as a result of the infection.
DO CERTAIN FOOD INCREASE OR DECREASE THE RISK OF DEVELOPING STOMACH CANCER?
The risk of developing stomach cancer is higher when large amounts of smoked foods, salted fish, salted meat and pickled food are consumed. Alternatively, fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin A and C seem to decrease the risk of developing stomach cancer.
The early symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Feeling bloated after a meal
- Slight nausea
- Appetite loss
Experiencing indigestion and heartburn after a meal does not exactly mean you have stomach cancer. However, if you experience these symptoms a lot, you should consult a doctor so that he or she can examine if you have any other symptoms and test you for other possible problems.
As the tumour grows, more serious symptoms may be experienced, such as:
- Pain in stomach
- Blood in stool
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Trouble swallowing
- Eyes or skin become yellowish
- Swelling in stomach
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Weakness or fatigue
The good news is stomach cancer is curable if detected early.
There are many treatments that can be used to fight stomach cancer. The option chosen by you and your doctor depends on what stage you’re at. This is determined by how long you’ve had the disease or how much it has spread.
- Surgery: The only effective method for curing stomach cancer is surgery. The tumor can be removed via open or laparoscopic (key-hole) surgery. Your surgeon may remove a part or all of your stomach during surgery. The remaining stomach (or the oesophagus, if the whole stomach is removed) is then connected to the small intestine. Surgery may even be performed on patients with advanced incurable stomach cancer to reduce complications such as blockage of the stomach or bleeding from cancer.
- Chemotherapy:Drugs are used in chemotherapy to kill cancer cells and also to shrink the size of the tumour. Chemotherapy can be a solo treatment or combined with radiotherapy after surgery. It also helps to reduce symptoms or prolong life in patients with advanced stomach cancer that can’t be operated on.
- Radiation therapy:Also known as radiotherapy is used to kill remnants of the cancer that can’t be seen and removed during surgery. This treatment may be useful for relieving stomach obstruction in patients with advanced stomach cancer. It is also used to stop bleeding from cancer that can’t be operated on.
- Targeted therapy:HER2 is a growth-promoting protein. One out of five patients with stomach cancer has too much HER2 protein (a growth-promoting protein) on the surface of the cancer cells. Tumours with increased levels of this protein are known as HER2-positive. Trastuzumab (Herceptin®) is a man-made antibody that targets the HER2 protein. This antibody combined with chemotherapy can help some patients with advanced HER2-positive stomach cancer live longer than just chemotherapy alone.
- Physical exam and history taking:A physical examination will be performed by your doctor. You will also be asked about your medical history to check if you have any risk factors for stomach cancer or any family members who have had it.
- Blood tests:To check for signs of cancer in your body.
- Gastroscopy:The most common way to detect any abnormalities in the stomach is by gastroscopy. During the examination, the doctor would insert a flexible tube with a miniature camera attached at the end, known as endoscope, through the mouth into the stomach. The doctor will inspect the stomach linings and take samples if required. These biopsy samples are taken to the lab for tests to detect cancer and whether there are any Helicobacteria Pylori bacteria in your stomach. Patients are required to fast at least 6 hours prior to the procedure, which will last only 15 to 20 mins. You may be given light sedation to ease any discomfort during the procedure and can usually be discharged on the same day.
- Biopsy:During a gastroscopy, a biopsy is performed where your doctor will take a sample of tissue from the abnormal looking area of your stomach which will then be sent for testing to determine if the tissue is cancerous.
- Upper GI series test:Before the procedure, you will be asked to drink a chalky drink with a substance called barium. This fluid will coat your stomach and makes it show up clearer on X-rays.
- CT scan:When stomach cancer has been diagnosed, chest x-rays and CT scans of the abdomen will be ordered to check if the cancer has spread. A CT scan is a powerful x-ray that shows detailed images of your body on the inside.
_CAN I PREVENT STOMACH CANCER?
Absolutely! Here are multiple ways to prevent stomach cancer:
- Treat stomach infections:Ulcers like H. pylori infection should get treated. Antibiotics and other drugs can kill the bacteria and can heal the sores in your stomach lining to reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer in the future.
- Eat healthy: Consume more fresh fruits and vegetables on every day basis. They are high in fibre and certain vitamins that can lower cancer risk. Foods that are very salty, pickled, cured or smoked such as hot dogs, processed lunch meats or smoked cheeses should be avoided. Your weight should be watched because being overweight or obese can lead to an increased risk of the disease.
- Don’t smoke:Using tobacco can double your risk of developing stomach cancer. You should also keep yourself away from second-hand smoking.
- Watch your aspirin and NSAID usage:If you are consuming aspirin daily to prevent heart problems or NSAID drugs for arthritis, speak to your doctor about how they may affect your stomach.