Stomach cancer arises in the stomach, an organ that plays a large role in digestion. Food travels to the stomach via the esophagus where it is combined with gastric juices and ground to produce a liquid. The liquid then travels to the intestine.
Cancer is found in all parts of the stomach, but most commonly in the mucosa or the innermost region. Stomach cancer can spread to nearby organs such as the pancreas, the colon, and the liver, as well as through the bloodstream to the lymph nodes, bones or lungs.
- Stomach cancer occurs most often in patients over the age of 50
- Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed
- Tobacco use
- Certain diets
- Family history
- Past stomach surgeries
Symptoms of stomach cancer are often ignored, letting the cancer advance unnoticed. Those who suffer from stomach cancer may experience a combination of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Early satiety
- Bleeding in the stool
- Vomiting blood
Detection and Diagnosis
If a patient has a number of symptoms or risk factors, the following tests can help to diagnose stomach cancer in addition to routine physical examinations.
In a fecal occult blood test, a small portion of the patient's stool is tested with a chemical. The presence of hidden, or occult, blood in the stool may indicate malignant growth, but hidden blood in the stool can also be found when cancer is not occurring.
During a barium swallow, the patient drinks a liquid containing barium, which coats the esophagus and stomach, making any abnormal growth visible in x-rays. Very often a "double contrast" technique is used, whereby air is pumped into the stomach through a tube after the patient has drank the barium-containing liquid. The air makes the barium coating thinner and better able to illustrate smaller areas of unusual growth. This procedure is known as a barium upper GI radiograph.
In an endoscopy, a long thin tube is extended down the patient's throat through the esophagus and to the stomach. The physician uses the tube, or endoscope, to see closer if there is any abnormal growth. If so, a biopsy can be performed in which some tissue can be removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Biopsies can accurately determine whether cancerous growths are occurring.
An endoscopic ultrasound puts ultrasound technology at the tip of an endoscope. An ultrasound utilizes inaudible sound waves, which bounce off internal organs and create a picture of the internal body.
- Surgery: removal of the entire stomach or part of the stomach during a gastrectomy, as well as other areas of the body to which the cancer has spread. If the cancer cannot be removed by standard surgery because the stomach opening is blocked by the tumor, endoscopic laser surgery or electrocautery (destroys abnormal tissue with heat) can be used.
- Chemotherapy: involves taking drugs that kill rapidly growing cells, thus noncancerous cells can be killed as well.
- Radiation Therapy: kills cancer cells with intense x-rays aimed only at the cancerous growth
- Chemoradiation (adjuvant therapy): combines chemotherapy and radiation therapy to increase the effects of both.