What is Stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer is cancer of the stomach. It can affect the lining of the stomach, or the cancer may be in the wall of the stomach. It can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs.

The majority of stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas. This is a type of cancer that starts in the glands that make mucus and digestive juices in the stomach. It can also spread to other parts of the body.

Who is at risk?

There are many risk factors for stomach cancer. Your risk for stomach cancer can vary, depending on your age and other factors.

You are more at risk if:

  • You have a family history of stomach cancer
  • You have had stomach cancer before
  • You have certain conditions, such as stomach cancer in a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) with stomach cancer
  • You are male
  • You are white
  • You have a history of stomach cancer before, or with another condition (such as alcohol abuse) that increases your risk

People who smoke are also more likely to develop stomach cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Some people do not have any symptoms, while others may experience:

  • Heartburn
  • Burping
  • Feeling full quickly when eating less than usual
  • Feeling nauseated (feeling sick)

If your symptoms are severe, you may also have:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Blood in your vomit or stool
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)

What causes stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer is caused by changes in the DNA of cells in the stomach. The most common causes are:

  • Overuse of aspirin
  • Overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen (Aleve, others), and COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex
  • Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for a long time, even if they are prescribed by your doctor
  • Being overweight
  • Having a chronic illness, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol

Certain conditions may also increase your risk for stomach cancer. This includes:

  • Having a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) with stomach cancer
  • Having a chronic illness (such as GERD)
  • Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Eating a diet low in fiber
  • Having a personal history of stomach or esophageal cancer
  • Having been exposed to radiation or chemicals used in the production of vinyl chloride
  • Having a family history of diseases of the throat, esophagus, or stomach
  • Having a history of stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, or stomach or esophageal cancer in a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling)

How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and your symptoms. You will also undergo a physical exam.

Your doctor may recommend the following tests to diagnose stomach cancer:

  • Endoscopy
  • Imaging tests
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests
  • X-rays

How is stomach cancer treated?

Treatment for stomach cancer depends on several factors. These include:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • The type of stomach cancer
  • Your age and overall health
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include the following:

  • Surgery Surgery is used to treat stomach cancers that are in the early stages. Surgery may include removing all or part of the stomach.
  • Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It is also called anti-cancer therapy.
  • Radiation therapy Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
  • Hormone therapy Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells by either killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
  • Targeted therapy Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack cancer cells without harming normal cells.
  • Immunotherapy Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to help the body’s own immune system “find” and destroy cancer cells.
  • Clinical trials Clinical trials are a way for doctors to study new treatments before they are available to patients.

What are the complications of stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Symptoms can be serious, and the disease can cause complications.

Complications can include:

  • Feeling nauseated
  • Having trouble swallowing
  • Having difficulty breathing
  • Having blood in your vomit or stool
  • Having a fever
  • Having pain in the upper abdomen
  • Having weight loss
  • Having a painful lump in your stomach or back
  • Having trouble taking in food
  • Having a hard time breathing
  • Having a dry cough
  • Having trouble urinating
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Having a sore throat
  • Having a rash on your skin

How can I prevent stomach cancer?

You can take steps to reduce your risk of stomach cancer. This includes:

  • Wearing a seat belt when riding in a car, as well as when riding in a bicycle or motorcycle
  • Not smoking or quitting smoking
  • Eating a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Not using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others)

Some final words

Stomach cancer can be a scary diagnosis. Your doctor will help you understand your diagnosis and discuss your treatment options. They’ll also answer any questions you may have.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with stomach cancer, you may find it helpful to connect with other people who have been through the same experience. You can use the American Cancer Society’s Find a Cancer Care community to connect with other people going through the same journey.

Images by Freepik

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