Stomach Cancer: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
Posted On: April 18, 2018
Stomach cancer is known to be the third leading cause of cancer deaths amidst genders across the globe. This cancer develops in the cells of your stomach that are responsible for producing mucus. This cancer type is known as adenocarcinoma.
In the past years, cases of cancer occurring in the primary part of stomach have become very rare. However, cancer occurring in the area where stomach’s top part joins with the lower part of oesophagus (swallowing tube) has become quite common. This part of stomach is known as the Gastroesophageal junction.
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer has several symptoms but many of its symptoms are even associated with lesser grave disorders because of which identifying the cancer through symptoms becomes a bit difficult.
Due to this reason, most people suffering from stomach cancer get diagnosed when the disease reaches its advanced stage.
Some of the early symptoms associated with stomach cancer happen to be:
- sensation of feeling full while having your meals
- problems with swallowing which is called dysphagia
- bloating ,post meals
- frequent burping
- stomachache, or pain in your breastbone
- trapped wind
- vomiting, with traces of blood
Signs that Require Immediate Medical Attention
Certain signs and symptoms of stomach cancer may hint at an emergency medical attention and these include:
- indigestion, along with unexplained weight loss, vomiting, anemia, fatigue and breathlessness
If you have been suffering from indigestion and also have any of the following conditions, then you must consider speaking to your doctor as soon as possible:
- A close relative with history of stomach cancer
- Barret's esophagus
- dysplasia, unusual collection of precancerous cells
- gastritis, inflammation of stomach the lining
- pernicious anemia, a condition wherein your stomach fails to absorb the vitamin B12 properly
- history of stomach ulcers
Cancer Signs in the Advanced Stages
When your stomach cancer reaches the advanced stage, then it will cause the following signs and symptoms.
- fluid build-up in stomach that makes the stomach feel lumpy
- black stools with traces of blood
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
Typically, cancer occurs when your cells’ DNA undergoes any unusual change, which is known as mutation. The mutation makes the cell to grow abnormally and replicate at a faster rate. Moreover, these mutated cells continue to live even when the natural cells die. These unusual cells continue to accumulate and develop into a tumor which can even infect the other cells and tissues nearby.
Eventually, the cancer cells tend to snap off the tumor and spread all over the body. The Gastroesophageal junction cancer is often linked with gastrointestinal reflux disorder (GERD). In some cases, even obesity and smoking are said to be the causes of stomach cancer.
GERD is a disorder that occurs due to the frequent backflow of the stomach acid into the esophagus.
As stated, GERD is known to be the primary risk factor associated with gastroesophageal junction cancer. Apart from this, some other factors that can increase the risk of stomach cancer include:
- Eating excessively salty and smoked foods
- Eating less fruits and vegetables
- Consuming foods that are contaminated with a fungus known as aflatoxin
- Family history of stomach cancer
- Infection due to Helicobacter pylori
- Enduring stomach inflammation
- Pernicious anemia
- Stomach polyps
As the precise causes of stomach cancer are not known, there are no sure-shot ways of preventing it. However, following certain measures, you can cut down your risk of suffering from stomach cancer.
Some of the changes you need to make in your lifestyle and diet include:
Exercise: regular exercise brings to you endless benefits and even protects you from various health disorders. Exercising on a regular basis is even known to cut down the risk of stomach cancer. This is why it is advisable that you make it a point to remain physically active during most days of a week. You can choose to follow any exercise form be it brisk walk, jogging, skipping or strenuous exercises like crunches, Pilates etc.
Healthy diet: What you eat can have a great impact on your health. And in case of stomach cancer, eating lots of fruits and vegetables can help in reducing the risk of stomach cancer. You should incorporate more of fruits and veggies and include a variety of them in your everyday diet. Moreover, you should make it a regular practice to eat healthy food. Avoid junk foods, too much salty and smoked food.
Quit smoking: It is known to increase your risk of suffering from various cancer types, inclusive of stomach cancer. This is why it is important that you quit smoking and take help from experts to get over this craving habit.
You should even consider speaking to your doctor to understand if you stand at a higher risk of developing stomach cancer.
There are various tests and procedures that are used for diagnosing the gastroesophageal junction cancer as well as stomach cancer. These tests include imaging tests, and other tests for diagnosing as well as identifying the extent or stage of the stomach cancer. Some of these tests include:
Endoscopy: A tiny camera is used that helps in seeing the inside of your stomach, this camera is attached to a thin tube, which passes down the throat and goes to the stomach. This helps the doctor in identifying the cancer signs and if any doubtful areas found, then your doctor will collect the tissue sample and will recommend a biopsy.
Imaging tests: Imaging tests that are usually used in identifying the stomach cancer happen to be Computerized Tomography (CT) scans and in some cases, a type of X-ray exam is also conducted, which is known as Barium Swallow.
Identifying the Extent of Stomach Cancer
Knowing the cancer stage is very crucial as it helps in planning the right treatment module for you. The stage of your stomach cancer helps your doctor decide which treatment may be best suited for you. Some of the tests that are used in determining the cancer stage include:
Imaging tests: These mostly include the computerized tomography (CT) and the Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
Exploratory surgery: In some cases, a surgery might be recommended that helps your doctor identify the signs which state that the cancer has invaded other parts or is still limited to the stomach. This is a laparoscopically done surgery where the surgeon will make many small cuts in the abdomen and then insert a camera which helps in transmitting the images on a monitor.
Stages of stomach cancer
Stomach cancer has many stages wherein, the intensity of cancer depends on the stage; higher the stage, more advanced is the cancer stage. As the stage goes higher, rate of survival comes down.
The cancer stage is even denoted with a letter which signifies if the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
The stages include:
Stage 0: Highly unusual precancerous cells are seen in the mucosa but they haven’t spread to any other layer of stomach or the adjoining lymph nodes.
Stage IA: In this stage, the cancer cells move to the next stomach layer like the submucosa but lymph nodes are not invaded.
Stage IB: In this stage, the cancer moves to the nest layer and even invades one or two nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IIA: Now in this stage, the cancer develops in the deeper layer and spreads to the nearby lymph nodes too.
Stage IIB: The cancer might not have spread deeply in this stage but it spreads greatly to the lymph nodes around.
Stage IIIA: Here the cancer spread to deeper layer and invades nearly 15 lymph nodes and even starts growing out of the stomach.
Stage IIIB: In this stage it spreads over 16 lymph nodes and even invades the adjoining organs and structures.
Stage IIIC: In this stage, the cancer develops into most of the stomach layers and lymph nodes.
Stage IV: In the final stage, the cancer spreads to distant areas.
The treatment module will depend on the stage of the cancer, along with your overall health as well as your preferences. Some of the commonly used treatment modules include:
If the Gastroesophageal junction cancer has not spread to other parts, then a surgery will be done for removing the part of your esophagus or stomach where the cancer tumor is located. The objective of surgery happens to be removing all the cancerous growth along with some healthy tissues. The lymph nodes will also be removed during the process. Some of the surgical options include:
Removal of early-stage tumors from stomach lining: When the cancer is very small and is restricted to the inner lining of your stomach, it is removed with the help of endoscopy and the procedure is known as endoscopic mucosal resection. The endoscope happens to be a lighted tube which has a camera attached. It is then passed down the throat into the stomach. The surgeon will make use of precise tools for removing the cancer and some part of healthy tissue.
Removal of some part of stomach (subtotal gastrectomy): In this process, the surgeon will remove just the part of your stomach which is affected by cancer.
Removal of entire stomach (total gastrectomy): Known as total gastrectomy, in this process, your surgeon will remove the entire stomach plus some encompassing tissue. The esophagus will then be directly connected to your small intestine which will let the food move into your digestive system.
Removal of lymph nodes: Your surgeon will examine and remove the lymph nodes in the abdomen so as to look for the cancer cells.
Surgery for relieving signs and symptoms: When the cancer reaches its advanced stage, a surgery will be done to remove some part of the affected area with the purpose of relieving the symptoms.
Whether some part of the stomach gets removed or whole parts are removed, surgery subjects you to a risk of digestive problems.
Another common treatment module is the radiation therapy that makes use of strong beams of energy, like X-rays and protons for killing the cancer cells. These energy beams are directed from a radiotherapy machine which moves around you when you lie on the table.
A radiation therapy is usually used before surgery for shrinking the tumor as it facilitates in easy removal of the cancer cells. In some cases, the radiation therapy can even be used, post surgery for killing the remaining cancer cells.
In case of gastroesophageal junction cancer, both radiation and chemotherapy are generally given at the same time, mostly before surgery.
Radiation therapy has its share of side effects too. Radiation therapy when given to the stomach can make you experience diarrhea, nausea, indigestion and vomiting. When it is given to the esophagus, radiation therapy can lead to pain while swallowing.
For avoiding this problem, your doctor may recommend placing a feeding tube in the stomach by making a small cut in the abdomen, till the time the esophagus heals.
Radiation therapy can even be used in case of advanced tumors but it will work with the objective of relieving the side effects caused by a large tumor.
Chemotherapy makes use of a combination of drugs for killing the cancer cells. These drugs travel all over your body, and kill the cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Like radiation therapy, chemotherapy can also be given prior to surgery for shrinking the tumor for its easy removal. This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy. When given before surgery, chemotherapy helps in killing the cancer cells that might have been left out after surgery. This type of chemo administration is known as adjuvant chemotherapy. It can be combined with radiation therapy or given as a stand-alone treatment for relieving the cancer side effects when it’s in the advanced stage.
The side effects of chemotherapy often depend on the drug type as used and can be managed with proper care.
Supportive (palliative) care
Palliative care is a specially deigned medical care which aims at offering comfort from pain and various other symptoms as caused due to any grave illness.
It is used when you undergo intense treatments like surgery, chemo or radiation therapy. When merged with other treatment types, palliative care lets the cancer patients feel better. The main aim of this treatment type is to offer relief from the pain or side effects of cancer treatments and improve the quality of life.
Like any other cancer type, cancer of stomach is equally distressing and fatal in nature. However, with timely diagnosis and effective treatment approach, the cancer can be treated and managed effectively.
Moreover, taking care of your everyday diet and lifestyle can go a long way in improving the quality of life even with stomach cancer.
At Shalby Hospitals, our Cancer & Research Institute provides the most effective diagnosis and treatment for stomach cancer. Our team of experts comprising; highly efficient Oncologists, Oncosurgeons, Radiation Oncologists, Chemotherapists and other paramedical staff, provide you with result-driven surgical and medical care.
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