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Have you heard about gastric cancer? Although it’s one of the most common cancers worldwide, it is now rare in the US as the trend has decreased over the past ten years for various reasons. The American Cancer Society estimates about 26,380 new cases and 11,090 deaths from gastric or stomach cancer in 2022.
The organization also found that more men are likely to develop and die from stomach cancer than women, but the numbers of those affected by this disease are not that different from each other. It just means that women should not ignore the risk of the disease. In this article, you will learn about this disease, its causes, whether stomach cancer symptoms for females differ from males, and more.
How Do You Know If You Have Stomach Cancer?
While the effect of the disease may vary from person to person, the signs of a tumor in the stomach are the same. An important thing to know about stomach cancer is that various gastrointestinal conditions, such as GERD and gastritis, can mimic common symptoms of stomach cancer. Only doctors can diagnose a patient whether they have cancer after a set of tests and check-ups, but what is gastric or stomach cancer?
Gastric or stomach cancer occurs when there is an uncontrolled growth of cancer cells within a person’s stomach lining or mucosa, the layer where most stomach cancer begins. These cells form a tumor and spread to other layers of the stomach over time. Like other types of cancer, it is also slow-growing, with precancerous changes before it becomes a tumor.
Most people with precancerous cells do not show signs of a stomach tumor, and it’s usually not detected until it becomes more developed. Stomach cancer comes in different types, and these types tend to have various stomach cancer symptoms, effects, and treatments.
The Different Types of Stomach Cancer
The most common cancer of the stomach develops in the mucosa. It has two types, intestinal or which has a better prognosis than the other type and responds to targeted drug therapy. Meanwhile, diffuse is a rare type of adenocarcinoma, spreads quickly, and is difficult to treat.
Also known as cancer of the immune system, that can develop in the walls of the stomach or other body parts. Treatment always depends on its type and other factors. Primary lymphoma is the type that involves the stomach and often impacts other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes and bone marrow. On the other hand, secondary lymphoma starts in different body parts and then spreads to the stomach.
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor or GIST
It’s common cancer in the stomach, small intestine, and sometimes the GI or gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes GISTs grow slowly, but other forms grow and spread very quickly.
Neuroendocrine Cancer or NETs
Of all parts of the body, the digestive system has the largest number of neuroendocrine cells. Because of that reason, it’s possible to develop a Neuroendocrine or carcinoid tumor in that area when these cells change and grow uncontrollably.
What Are the Main Causes of Stomach Cancer?
Further studies are needed to know the leading causes of stomach cancer or cancer cells in general. It’s because sometimes there are no reasons or risk factors for specific cancer like gastric cancer. However, a person with stomach inflammation for a long time because of their lifestyle choices or chronic illness increases the risk of developing stomach cancer.
Some other common causes related to a person’s medical history to be aware of are:
- Having H. pylori or a common bacterial infection in the stomach that causes ulcers
- Other types of tumors that develop in the gastrointestinal tract
- Abdominal polyps or the abnormal growth of tissue inside the stomach
- Pernicious anemia or vitamin deficiency
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD
Stomach Cancer Risk Factors
You’re at a higher risk of developing stomach cancer if you/are:
- Over 50 years old and male
- Have a family history of disease or genetic syndromes
- Overweight or obese
- Recent or had stomach surgery in the past
- Is a regular drinker and smoker
- Eat lots of salty, meaty, and processed foods but no fruit
- Not cooking or storing food properly
- Have excessive exposure to asbestos, coal, rubber, metal, and timber
What Is the First Sign of Stomach Cancer?
Stomach cancer symptoms are usually vague and appear in different ways. Sometimes what seems normal, like stomach discomfort, can be one of the stomach cancer symptoms. The presentation of symptoms can also vary from person to person, meaning some stomach pain cancer symptoms can be the first sign to you but not to others. But often, the first symptoms of stomach cancer can include indigestion and pain in the upper abdomen.
Another way to recognize the signs of a tumor in the stomach is through its different types. The first symptoms of stomach cancer, called adenocarcinoma, may be abdominal pain, weight loss, vomiting, and fatigue. On the other hand, painless swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, and itchy skin are some common symptoms of stomach cancer known as lymphoma.
If you see blood in your stool or vomit, these may be signs of stomach cancer called a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. To check if you have neuroendocrine cancer, diarrhea, thirst, and a growing tumor or lump under the skin can also be the first symptoms of stomach cancer. Because the early warning signs of stomach cancer can vary, you must familiarize yourself with each symptom and consult a doctor to determine your condition.
How to Detect Stomach Cancer Early
As mentioned above, with no present stomach tumor symptoms, stomach cancer can go undetected for a long time until it becomes malignant. But even without stomach cancer symptoms, it can be detected early with screening. In countries with prevalent stomach cancer, people with an average and high risk of getting the disease without stomach tumor symptoms will be screened.
However, in the US, medical practitioners will not offer stomach cancer screening for people with lower to average risk. It’s because the disease is now a rare case in the country, and people can only get diagnosed if they have stomach cancer symptoms. Here are other ways to detect stomach cancer early includes:
- Submitting a history of your medical and physical examination to your doctor
- Having upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, where a small and flexible tube with a camera will be inserted in your mouth to check your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
- Doing the usual biopsy procedure for diagnosing cancer diseases
- Conducting CT scans, endoscopic ultrasound, and X-rays
- Clearer scanning of cancer cells using Positron emission tomography or PET
What Are the Symptoms of Stomach Cancer?
Although we have already discussed the common early symptoms of stomach cancer, it’s also essential to know the signs for early and advanced stages. Stomach cancer has five stages, from zero to four, and stage four is the deadliest. These stages are generally based on the degree of severity and spread and follow the TNM cancer staging system.
In this cancer staging system, T refers to the size of the tumor and how deep it has spread into the abdominal wall. On the other hand, N stands for the number of lymph nodes affected by cancer cells. Lastly, M answers whether the cancer has metastasized or spread to other body parts. With that said, the five stages of stomach cancer and treatments for each stage are:
Stage 0: The cancer cells are discovered only in the surface lining of your stomach and have not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. The doctor may advise surgery to remove the tumor and parts of your lymph nodes.
Stage 1: By this time, the tumor has spread through your abdominal layers and may or may not have penetrated your lymph nodes but not your body. Chemotherapy or chemoradiation is the usual treatment for this stage. It is to make the cancer cells smaller before surgery and kill the small pieces that remain in your body after surgery.
Stage 2: In this case, the cancer cells reach the deeper layers of the stomach and lymph nodes. The first-stage treatments will still be used to cure you.
Stage 3: There is a high possibility that the tumor has spread deeper into the stomach and lymph nodes and nearby organs in your body, such as the colon. Although it has a 50/50 chance of curing you, your surgeon may remove your entire stomach and administer chemotherapies to help you deal with symptoms. The doctor may offer frail patients a different treatment that they can handle.
Stage 4: The last and most deadly stage of stomach cancer. In the fourth stage, cancer has spread to different organs, which will be more challenging to cure. Your doctor will help you deal with symptoms through medications, therapy, and other treatments.
Early Signs of Stomach Cancer
Here are the other common symptoms of stomach cancer at an early stage that is not discussed in the above section.
- Change or loss in appetite
- Swelling of the stomach
- Frequent heartburn and burping
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Eyes and skin become yellowish
- You feel bloated after every meal
Stomach Pain Cancer Symptoms in More Advanced Stages
When cancer cells spread and you reach stages two to four, often called the advanced stages, here is what you will feel and notice in your body.
- Bloody or black stools
- Nausea and vomiting
- A lump in your upper stomach
- A questionable and drastic weight loss
- Constipation or diarrhea
How to Get Diagnosed
Detecting this disease is difficult, like many other cancer diseases. But by noticing the changes in your body, how you feel every day, and especially the stools, you can easily see if something is wrong with you. If there are signs of stomach cancer that worry you a lot, go to the doctor for a consultation. Then, they may ask you to do different tests to ensure they are correct with the diagnosis.
If your suspicion is correct and it is a symptom of stomach cancer, early detection helps you get better and live longer. Remember that early diagnosis and treatment before cancer has spread has a 5-year survival rate of 70%. Although it is relatively small, that number is better than those who are not treated and die after a few years. You can prevent stomach cancer by eating healthy foods, avoiding smoking and excessive drinking, and treating stomach infections.
All American Hospice Is Here to Help
Stomach cancer is a rare case in the US where healthy cells in the stomach are replaced and become cancerous. Common symptoms of stomach cancer are abdominal pain, indigestion, nausea, vomiting with or without blood, fatigue, bloody stools, etc.
Sometimes a person gets depressed when diagnosed with diseases, especially cancer. Their daily life becomes burdensome not only for the patient but also for the caregivers. If you need help, All American Hospice is here to accompany you in your recovery and help you care for your loved one and your emotional problems. Call us today, and learn more about us and our services.