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Stomach cancer

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Stomach cancer is one of the five most common cancers in the United States, and kills nearly a million people every year. In the United States, whites are less likely to get it than Asians, African-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. Stomach cancer represents about two percent of new cases of cancer in the US, but has much higher incidents in other countries, including Korea, Japan, Iceland, and many South American countries. It has decreased dramatically in the West, including the United States and Western Europe, but remains a leading cause of cancer death elsewhere.

STOMACH CANCER CAUSES

The causes of stomach cancer are not fully determined; doctors cannot predict exactly who is most likely to get stomach cancer. There are some risk factors, however, that may increase the chances some people have of contracting stomach cancer. Older people are more likely to get stomach cancer; the risk is greater over age fifty, and the greatest for those over the age of seventy-two. Some studies indicate that there may be a genetic component that raises a person’s risk of getting it by up to ten percent. Men are more likely to get it than women, and smokers are twice as likely to get it than non-smokers. It may also be triggered by the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria; it has been found that people with an H. Pylori infection are more likely to develop stomach cancer. Diet, as well, is thought to play a contributing role, since stomach cancer is most common in areas that salt, pickle, or smoke food as a means of preserving it if refrigeration is not always accessible.

STOMACH CANCER SYMPTOMS

Stomach cancer can be very difficult to diagnose, since its symptoms are common to other ailments. By the time it is discovered that a person has cancer, the cancer has most likely metastasized to other areas of the body, giving the patient a very poor outlook for treatment and survival. Only one in five stomach cancers are caught before they’ve spread outside the stomach. In the early stages, a tumor in the stomach may only cause indigestion, heartburn, or loss of appetite. Another early sign of stomach cancer is small levels of internal bleeding, which are usually only detected through a blood test of the stool. This bleeding may cause anemia, which will be experienced by the patient as constant fatigue, since too may red blood cells will be bled out. As the cancer spreads and the tumor grows, it may cause severe pain in the abdomen, as well as nausea and vomiting. Other late-stage symptoms can include either diarrhea or constipation, bloating, weakness or fatigue, vomiting blood, or having blood in the stool or tarry black stool. Of course, those can all be symptoms of other illnesses, as well, which is why an oncologist or a gastroenterologist should be consulted when making a diagnosis of these symptoms.
stomach cancer
Image: Stomach cancer

STOMACH CANCER DIAGNOSIS

When trying to find the cause of the patient’s symptoms, a doctor will take a complete medical history, including information about family illnesses. They will do a complete physical and may order lab tests. They will also do a gastroscopic exam, in which a thin tube with a camera on the end may be inserted into the stomach through the esophagus. This allows the doctor to see if there are tumors, lesions, or other irregularities that might be causing the symptoms. If there is anything abnormal, such as abnormal tissues, they will be biopsied to see if they are cancerous. A biopsy is the only way to definitively determine whether cancer is present.

If the biopsy finds that cancer cells are present, the next step is for an oncologist to stage the cancer, which means to find out how far it has spread, or at what stage it is. This is often does through a CT-scan or an ultrasound, to see if the cancer has affected the organs near the stomach. Stomach cancer can easily spread to the other vital organs nearby. A tumor might grow through the stomach’s outer layer and grow into other organs, such as the intestine, pancreas, or esophagus. Cancer cells can be carried from the stomach in the blood and spread to the liver or other important organs. It can also spread through the lymphatic system which can carry it into the lymph nodes.

STOMACH CANCER TREATMENT

Stomach cancer is very hard to cure if it isn’t found at an early stage, and unfortunately, it is rarely found at an early stage. The most common treatment for stomach cancer is surgery, which removes part or all of the stomach, along with other tissues that surround the stomach. The goal is to remove all of the cancer plus a little bit extra healthy tissue. Other organs or tissues may be have to be removed, as well, depending upon the extent of the cancer’s spread.


Surgery is only less than forty percent effective in curing stomach cancer, and in advanced cases may only be useful in helping alleviate pain. After surgery, the patient may receive chemotherapy, radiation, or both in an attempt to reduce the spread of the cancer in other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is also sometimes given before the surgery in order to try to reduce the size of the tumor and check its growth. Studies have shown that the best results often occur when chemotherapy is used both before and after surgery.

The goal of cancer treatment is to cure the cancer and let the patient live a healthy and productive life. Unfortunately with stomach cancer, that is not always possible. Some treatments may result in being merely palliative; that is effective only relieve pain and make the patient comfortable in the final stages of the disease.

There are some steps people can take to avoid stomach cancer. Avoid foods with nitrates and nitrites; this includes processed meats such as bacon, sausage, salami, and hot dogs. Do not start smoking, or quit if you smoke already. And if symptoms persist, discuss them with your doctor, even if they seem to be mild. Stomach cancer is serious, and early detection can make the difference between life and death.
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