Stomach Cancer: Symptoms, Stages, Causes, Medicines & Treatments
Commonly asked questions about stomach cancer:
- What is stomach cancer?
- What are the different types of stomach cancer?
- Stomach cancer risk factors
- Can power morcellators cause stomach/abdominal cancer?
- Stomach cancer causes
- Stomach cancer symptoms
- Stomach cancer treatments
- How to prevent cancer
- What drugs are used to treat stomach cancer?
What Is Stomach Cancer?
The term “stomach cancer” is used to categorize any form of cancer that may develop in the tissue within or immediately surrounding the stomach. Located in the upper middle section of the abdomen, the stomach is responsible for receiving and storing food until it is sufficiently broken down and digested.
Stomach cancer, also referred to as gastric cancer, is difficult to detect before advancing to late-stages of development as visible symptoms rarely develop early in development.
Although a serious diagnosis, stomach cancer has actually been growing increasingly uncommon in the United States, with the amount of diagnosed cases dropping each year. In fact, over the last 20 years the number of stomach cancer cases in the United States has dropped by almost 25%.
According to the National Cancer Institute: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, diagnosed cases of stomach cancer have been reduced to 26,370 per year with 10,730 related deaths. These numbers comprise 1.6% of new cancer cases and 1.8% of all cancer related deaths.
What Are The Different Types Of Stomach Cancer?
If diagnosed with stomach cancer, an individual can be suffering from any of the following specific forms of stomach cancer. While all originate in the stomach, they all develop in specific areas with their own dangers and intricacies.
The most commonly diagnosed form of stomach cancer, 90-95% of all diagnosed stomach cancer cases are identified as adenocarcinoma. This cancer initially develops in the stomach lining’s gland cells – the producers of mucus and stomach juices.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system that can originate in the walls of the stomach. Only 4% of stomach cancer diagnosis are classified as lymphoma. There are different types of lymphoma that can be researched independently and have different outlooks depending on the form’s developmental stage.
This form of stomach cancer develops as a tumor in the hormone-producing cells of the stomach. Only 3% of stomach cancers are classified as a carcinoid tumor. One of the unique aspects regarding this form of cancer is the rarity in which metastization occurs.
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor
Referred to as GIST, this cancer takes the form of rare tumors that start in young cells within the stomach wall. These tumors can develop as cancerous or non-cancerous and can be found anywhere in the digestive system, although most develop in the stomach.
Stomach Cancer Risk Factors
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Stomach Cancer?
There are several factors, known as risk factors, that work to increase the likelihood of an individual developing stomach cancer in their lifetime. While these factors do not determine if an individual will without a doubt develop stomach cancer, they represent demographics or occurrences that typically carry higher stomach cancer rates than is standard.
Some of these can be influenced or prevented by the actions of a person, however, others cannot be prevented or initiated and simply apply to whoever it is they apply to.
The risk factors most commonly identified by medical professionals as influential in the development rate of stomach cancer include:
Age, gender, and race are three risk factors whose status in increasing an individuals risk of stomach cancer cannot be changed regardless of any actions taken. Regarding gender, while the cause is unknown, men have been found to be far more likely to develop stomach cancer than women.
Additionally, those above the age of 50 face a drastically higher risk of stomach cancer than younger individuals. Peak ages for stomach cancer diagnosis’ are in an individuals late 60s or 80s.
Stomach cancer rates are also higher in the Hispanic, African American, and Asian/Pacific Islander communities than in other racial demographics, although the cause for the rate disparity is unknown.
Geography also plays a major role in the development of stomach cancer, although science has yet to determine exactly what that may signify. While stomach cancer cases are decreasing in number in Northern and Western Africa, South Central Asia, and North America, the numbers have remained steady in Japan, China, Southern and Eastern Europe, and South America.
Science has yet to determine if this geographical difference in stomach cancer is due to environmental factors, demographic factors, or any other differences between the less affected and more affected geographic areas.
Helicobacter Pylori Infection
Individuals who suffered from an helicobacter pylori infection typically carry a substantial risk of stomach cancer development. The infection especially increases the risk of cancer developing in the distal area of the stomach.
The risk increase may be rooted in the infection leading to inflammation and pre-cancerous alterations to the lining of the stomach. While the cause is unknown, it is known that those with this infection have a far higher rate of stomach cancer than those without.
However, while the risk is far higher, most who suffer from this infection still never develop stomach cancer.
As applies to most cancers, maintaining an unhealthy diet and weight can skyrocket an individuals likelihood of developing stomach cancer. Regarding diet, those who consume large amounts of smoked food, salted fish and meat, and pickled vegetables typically suffer from stomach cancer more often than those who do not.
However, consuming fruits and vegetables, while statistically unknown, reportedly lowers the risk of stomach cancer.
Relating to a poor diet, being overweight or obese has been routinely linked to cancers of the cardia – upper portion of the stomach – although figures indicating the exact risk increase is yet unknown.
Regular use of tobacco is another example of a risk factor that applies to most forms of cancer – regardless of the point of origin. Those who smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes typically suffer from stomach cancer at a rate two times greater than those who do not pursue a regular habit of smoking tobacco products.
There are multiple medical aspects in ones life that can indicate a heightened risk of stomach cancer. The most commonly cited are as follows:
- Undergoing Stomach Surgery
- Pernicious Anemia
- Menetrier Disease
- Type A Blood
Other medical factors that can increase the likelihood of stomach cancer take the form of inherited syndromes which may include:
- Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer
- Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer
- Familial Adenomatous Polyposis
- BRCA1 & BRCA2
- Li-Fraumeni Syndrome
- Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome
Exposure To Dangerous Materials
Occupations that require that an individual routinely expose themselves to dangerous chemicals or substances typically hold a greater chance of stomach cancer diagnosis. These occupations can include the coal, metal, and rubber industries.
How Can I reduce My Risk Of Developing Stomach Cancer?
With medical data able to indicate how factors create an increase in stomach cancer development rates, individuals can pursue certain efforts to reduce their stomach cancer risk.
While there are no known ways to eliminate the risk of stomach cancer entirely, pursuing the following efforts can significantly reduce the risk.
- Maintain Healthy Weight
- Eat Low-Fat Diet
- Refrain From Smoking
- Exercise Regularly
If someones risk for stomach cancer is considered high enough, a medical professional may prescribe a medication that works to lower the risk as well. However, these medications are reserved for those who suffer from medical conditions with an exceptionally high stomach cancer transition rate.
Can Power Morcellators Cause Stomach/Abdominal Cancer?
Power morcellators are tools used by doctors in hysterectomies, as well as other minimally invasive procedures to remove uterine fibroids. Surgeons make small incisions to “morcellate” or chop up fibroids and tissue in order to cut them into smaller pieces. Surgeons then vacuum the residue out of the area.
The concern, however, is the morcellator has a possibility of spreading bits of the uterine or fibroid tissue to other tissues and organs, spurring on new growths.
The new growths can cause pain, infection, bowel obstruction or in some cases malignant cancer cells can become present. When cancer metastasizes, it infects other organs, such as the stomach, liver, ovaries and lungs. This form of cancer is called metastasized leiomysarcoma and is classified as a stage III or IV cancer and has a much higher fatality rate.
Stomach Cancer Causes
How Do I Get Stomach Cancer?
Medical researchers have yet to determine what exactly triggers the rapid cell growth that comprises cancer, however, they do know the process that immediately follows the triggering in immense detail.
The growth occurs when cells DNA have suffered irreparable damage causing their instructions to be altered. These cell then multiply at an uncontrollable rate and experience a longer lifespan than the body is accustomed to handling.
As this growth and life-longevity continues, cells accumulate to form a tumor that can begin to attack and invade its host organ. When the organ is being attacked and overwhelmed by the cancerous growth, its effectiveness and health will deteriorate as the growth grows stronger. If the growth grows large enough, it may break apart leading to the spread of cancerous cells to other areas of the body.
In addition to previously stated risk factors recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports have indicated that power morcellator use is associated with the spread of abdominal based cancers.
Morcellators are used to break apart tissue prior to a myomectomy or hysterectomy. However, when breaking up tissue, the device may spread dormant cancer cells to other areas of the body. With stomach cancer falling under the classification of abdominal cancer, there may be a risk that stomach cancer may be triggered due to the spread of dormant cancer cells.
Stomach Cancer Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer typically do not develop until the cancer has advanced to later stages of development. This hidden nature of the cancer is an aspect that makes the cancer so dangerous at times, as the later it is detected, the harder it is to treat.
However, once symptoms are developed they may include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Nausea Or Vomiting
- Bowel Movement Irregularities
- Stomach Bloating
- Loss Of Appetite/Weight Loss
Additional symptoms may be found as the stomach tumor grows and becomes more dangerous to the individual. When the cancer has reach an advanced stage of the developmental process, an individual may suffer from any of the following, in addition to the aforementioned symptoms
- Fatigue Induced Weakness
- Blood In Vomit Or Stool
- Rapid Weight Loss
- Intense Stomach Pain
- Trouble Swallowing
- Skin Or Eyes Developing Yellow Hue
Stomach Cancer Treatments
How Can Stomach Cancer Be Treated?
Although no cure for stomach cancer has been developed, the medical community is able to utilize multiple treatment methods to treat and eradicate the cancer in afflicted individuals.
To maximize the ability for a medical professional to treat a patient, a team of specialists are typically assembled to determine which method to pursue. These medical professionals often include a gastroenterologist, a surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist.
This team of medical professionals will decide which of the following treatment methods will be most effective in the specific case in question.
Early-Stage Tumor Removal
If a cancerous tumor is isolated in the inside lining of the stomach, a surgeon may be able to use an endoscopy to perform a endoscopic mucosal resection in which the cancer is carefully removed. Once inside the body, the surgeon is able to use specially designed tools to remove the cancer in addition to any surrounding tissue that may be at risk of contamination.
In a subtotal gastrectomy the cancerous portion of the stomach is completely removed from the body – the portion most often being the lower portion of the stomach. Once the infected area of the stomach is removed, the surgeon will analyze nearby lymph nodes to determine if the cancer had spread.
If the instant analysis is able to show that the cancer was not isolated to the stomach, the surgeon will proceed to remove tissue and organs close to the infected area where cancer cells may have spread.
A total gastrectomy involves the complex and delicate removal of the entire stomach. This surgery is pursued when the cancer has spread to various areas of the stomach and has grown in size and when other options for treatment would not sufficiently eradicate the cancer or minimize the risk for recurrence.
With the stomach removed, the performing surgeon will attach the esophagus to the small intestine to form an alternate stomach. Although the alternative stomach will not be able to hold as much, it will still function as a stomach would.
Available to treat all forms of cancer, radiation therapy utilizes high-powered beams, including X-rays and protons, to fixate on and kill cancer cells.
This treatment method can be used before surgery in an effort to shrink the tumor, after surgery to ensure that all cancer cells have been killed, or in combination with chemotherapy to serve as a substitute for surgery.
Chemotherapy is perhaps the most widely known method used to treat any form of cancer. This method utilizes various drugs injected into a vein or administered orally to spread throughout the body while killing all cancer cells they come into contact with.
Like radiation therapy, this treatment can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, or with radiation to substitute the need for surgery.
Not as common as radiation or chemotherapy, targeted therapy uses a combination of drugs specifically designed to target the cancer cells growing in a specific area of the body. The method is not as common due to medical studies that have indicated that drugs used may not be especially effective when treating stomach cancer.
Drugs employed by this form of therapy include:
- Trastuzumab (Herceptin)
- Ramucirumab (Cyramza)
- Imatinib (Gleevec)
- Sunitinib (Sutent)
- Regorafenib (Stivarga)
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Stomach Cancer?
The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of stomach cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Doxorubicin Hydrochloride
- Fluorouracil Injection
- Mitomycin C