Since symptoms rarely occur in the early stages, stomach cancers are tough to detect.
Cancers arising in the stomach are called stomach or gastric cancers. Generally, stomach cancers develop gradually over the years. Before this, however, precancerous changes often arise in the stomach mucosa (inner lining). Since such early changes rarely show symptoms, they often go undetected.
Types of stomach cancers:
- Adenocarcinoma (about 90–95% of stomach cancers, developing from cells in the mucosa).
- Lymphoma (immune system tissue cancers sometimes found in the stomach wall).
- Carcinoid tumour (arises in the stomach’s hormone-making cells; typically, won’t spread to other organs).
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumour (rare, some benign or non-cancerous; others cancerous).
- Other types include squamous cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma and leiomyosarcoma (rare).
Several risk factors predispose people to develop stomach cancers, such as:
- Gender: More common in men.
- Age: Sharp rise of cases in 50-plus people; usually in their 60s and thereafter.
- Helicobacter pylori infection: Though a major cause, many carrying this bacteria in their stomach never develop cancer.
- Diet: Processed, smoked, salted fish and meat; pickled vegetables.
- Tobacco: Cigarettes and tobacco-related products double the risk.
- Alcohol abuse: Consumption can cause carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and nitrosamines.
- Obesity: Being obese or overweight is another possible cause.
Signs and Symptoms
Stomach cancer rarely shows early signs and symptoms, which can include:
- Loss of appetite, sometimes along with sudden weight loss.
- Abdominal pain, worsening after meals.
- Constant bloating; abdominal swelling or fluid build-up.
- Fullness/early satiety even after small meals.
- Heartburn or indigestion.
- Nausea and vomiting (with/without blood).
- Bloody stools.
- Frequent heartburn.
- Excessive fatigue.
- Low red blood cell count (anaemia).
Note that other stomach ailments or ulcers can cause the same problems and may not be cancerous. Once confirmed, stomach cancer can be treated via multiple modalities (depending on the stage), including surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy (vaccines/medications), radiation and targeted therapy (specific drugs). Often, two or more treatments are used to suppress stomach cancer.
- Exercising regularly.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Avoiding cigarettes, drugs and
- Consuming fresh fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables daily.
- Eating fresh white meat and fish rather than processed foods and red meat.
- Early screening in case of suspected symptoms or family history of cancer.
As in all cancers, early diagnosis and timely treatment can save lives.