About Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is typically a form of adenocarcinoma that occurs in the mucus-producing cells lining the stomach. Although it’s used synonymously with the abdominal region, the stomach is but the top organ of the gastric system, responsible for holding food and initiating the digestive process through the secretion of gastric juice.
Stomach cancer takes years to develop and symptoms take a long time to manifest since it is typically a slow-acting disease. Although pre-cancerous developments can occur in the inner lining of the stomach, such changes are exceedingly difficult to detect. There are four primary types of stomach cancer, including:
- Adenocarcinoma – At least 90% of all gastric cancers fall into this category since most develop from the cells that form in the mucosa.
- A gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GST) – Rarely occurring tumors that form in the newly developing interstitial cells of Cajal—the pacemaker cells of the gut that can be found in the stomach’s wall lining.
- Lymphoma – Infrequent cancers of the immune system tissue located in the stomach’s walls.
- Carcinoid tumor – Localized tumors that start and typically remain in the hormone-making cells of the stomach.
According to the American Cancer Society:
- About 27,510 cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed (17,230 in men and 10,280 in women).
- About 11,140 people will die from this type of cancer (6,800 men and 4,340 women).
Of these, more than 60% are at least 65 years old and more likely to be male than female.
Causes and Risk Factors
The causes and risk factors of gastric cancer depend on both immutable characteristics as well as behavior. That said, the most common risk factors that could contribute to the development of stomach cancer are:
- Sex – Men are more likely to develop it than women.
- Diet – If you have a diet that consists of foods that are high in salt content and low in fruits and vegetables.
- Age – Nearly all cases of stomach cancer range in age between 50 and 80 with few patients ever developing it early on in life.
- Race – There seems to be some racial genetic linkage to stomach cancer with it occurring more frequently in Hispanics, blacks, and Asians than with whites.
- Tobacco use – The rate of cancer in the upper portion of the stomach is almost doubled in smokers compared to non-smokers.
- Helicobacter pylori infection – Long-term infection of the stomach with H pylori bacteria has been positively linked to gastric cancer.
Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging
The most common signs of both stomach cancer and gastroesophageal junction cancer are:
- Feeling full after relatively little
- Feeling like you’re bloated after eating
- Involuntary weight loss
- Mysterious persistent nausea
- Persistent vomiting
- Regular painful indigestion
- Severe and persistent heartburn
- Stomach pain
Diagnosis typically can be conducted via one of three tests, including:
- Upper endoscopic ultrasound – During this minimally invasive technique, a small tube with a camera is passed down into the esophagus to search for signs of cancerous cells.
- Imaging tests – X-rays or CT scans are taken to map the entire stomach.
- Exploratory surgery – Doctors will sometimes recommend a laparoscopic exploratory surgery to seek out signs of cancer cells that have spread into other regions of the abdomen.
Stages of Stomach Cancer
No matter what stage, it is always good to seek out treatment and therapy options. There are four stages of cancer, but the precise staging depends on the location the cancer is in the stomach, as well as other factors.
- Stage I
- IA: Cancer has spread through the mucosa of the stomach wall.
- IB: Cancer has spread through the mucosal layer and can be identified in at least 6 lymph nodes.
- Stage II – Cancer has spread lymph nodes near the tumor, or to the muscularis, or to serosal.
- Stage III – Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes near the tumor, the muscalaris, and the serosal, and it has invaded the organs next to the stomach.
- Stage IV – Cancer has spread to the organs next to the stomach and at least one lymph node.
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Leabu, M. NCBI. Interstitial Cells of Cajal and gastrointestinal stromal tumor. (2006). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17125601
American Cancer Society. Key Statistics About Stomach Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
Lui, FH. NCBI. Ethnic disparities in gastric cancer incidence and survival in the USA. (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25030941
American Cancer Society. What Causes Stomach Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html