Your stomach comprises a sac-like organ that begins the complex breakdown of all the food you eat. The stomach produces gastric juices and digestive enzymes to metabolize every food component and absorb any necessary nutrients.
The stomach can suffer a wide range of potential problems, including stomach cancer. While this form of gastric cancer was once one of the most common in the United States, stomach cancer today makes up about 1.5 percent of all new cancer diagnoses in the country. Learn more about how to treat stomach cancer below.
Understanding Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer refers to the rapid, unregulated growth of cells originating in the stomach. The growth of stomach cancer cells can result in the formation of a tissue mass known as a stomach tumor. Left untreated, tumors can cause a wide range of issues and grow to the point of inhibiting regular stomach functions. Tumors may also spread to nearby organs and tissues, and tumor cells can break off and travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
The stomach comprises five different parts, and cancer can affect cells in any of these parts of the stomach. In most other parts of the world, stomach cancer more commonly affects the stomach body, which is the main section of the stomach. In the United States, stomach cancer is more often found in the gastroesophageal junction, which is the area where your esophagus meets your stomach.
Stomach cancers can occur in any cell in the stomach, but a vast majority of stomach cancers affect the cells in the stomach’s inner lining These are known as adenocarcinomas, and about 90 to 95 percent of stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas. Stomach cancer can also affect lymph cells, neuroendocrine cells, and stromal cells, among several others.
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
In its earliest stages, stomach cancer typically does not present any noticeable early symptoms of stomach cancer. Symptoms usually only appear after the tumor has grown large or spread to other nearby organs.
Some signs and symptoms that you may experience include:
- Lost appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- Feeling bloated after a meal
- Feeling full after eating just a small amount of food
- Heartburn and indigestion
- Nausea and vomiting
- General pain in the stomach and abdominal region
- Fatigue and weakness
- Possible jaundice (yellowing in the eyes and skin) if the cancer has spread to the liver
Many of these symptoms can be caused by other types of cancer or non-cancerous health issues. Some of the symptoms, like heartburn or a poor appetite, can be easy to ignore altogether.
Stomach Cancer Treatment
Your exact cancer treatment will depend on the tumor location, the type of stomach cancer, and the extent of the cancer (meaning how much it has grown and its potential spread to other parts of the body). The most common types of alternative treatment for stomach cancer are below.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to eliminate the stomach cancer cells. This involves exposing affected areas to radiation using a special machine. The actual procedure is similar to getting an x-ray, though the radiation is significantly stronger. Treatments last just a few minutes, though you will likely spend more time actually getting set up for the treatment.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be used in conjunction prior to surgery to more effectively shrink tumors for easier surgical removal. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also be used after surgery to remove remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy can also be administered on its own to slow down cancer growth and shrink tumors.
Immunotherapy involves medication that supports your own immune system’s ability to identify and eliminate cancerous cells on its own. This can involve a variety of different medications and mechanisms.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors are one of the most common forms of this treatment. An important function of your immune system is to discern between normal cells and potentially harmful cells and attack one and not the other. To accomplish this, the immune system uses special proteins on immune cells that can be turned on or off to begin the immune response. Cancerous cells can potentially use these checkpoints to hide from the immune system in plain sight. Immune checkpoint inhibitors essentially turn off these proteins, allowing the immune system to attack advanced stomach cancer cells effectively.
Is Stomach Cancer Treatable?
As with most forms of cancer, advanced stomach cancer is most curable when it is caught early. At its early stages, the tumor may be small enough and isolated enough to successfully remove any cancer cells with surgery alone. For localized cancer, the five-year relative survival rate is about 70 percent. That percentage drops as the cancer spreads regionally or to other parts of the body.
Rest assured that there are effective treatments for stomach cancer. The most important stomach cancer factor is getting diagnosed as early as possible. If you experience any symptoms or have a history of stomach cancer in your family, consult your doctor about getting a proper diagnosis.
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.