Definition: what is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a malignant tumor that affects the stomach cells. In nine out of ten cases, gastric cancers are adenocarcinomas, meaning that they develop in the inner (mucus) layer of the stomach.
The stomach is an organ involved in digestion which is situated in the upper part of the abdomen, between the esophagus and the duodenum. Its role is to gather and digest the ingested foods and some digestive juices are used to convert these foods into useful nutrients for the body.
Stomach cancer is the most common cancer in people over the age of 50 and affects more men than women. It is the second highest cause of death by cancer in the world.
Symptoms of stomach cancer
Stomach cancer develops slowly and the when the tumor starts to grow, there are no symptoms which makes it very difficult to diagnose. However, we can recognize gastric cancer from clinical signs such as:
- abdominal pains
- unexplained weight loss
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- finding it difficult to swallow
- heartburn and stomach cramps
When the cancer reaches an advanced stage, it is also possible to begin seeing blood in the stool or vomit.
In case these symptoms appear, it is important to consult a doctor straight away. A stomach endoscopy and an abdominal scan are needed to diagnose stomach cancer.
Causes of stomach cancer
The causes of gastric cancer are still relatively unknown. However, various risk factors have been linked to this illness by researchers and include an infection by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a high tobacco consumption, family history, a diet that is too rich in salt or a genetic predisposition.
Treating stomach cancer
The earlier the stomach cancer is diagnosed, the longer the life expectancy will be. In fact, there is a 50 to 80% chance of surviving 5 years longer if the cancer is detected at an early stage, but drops to 20 to 30% if detected at a later stage.
The choice of treatment for stomach cancer depends on the stage of cancer, the location of the tumor and the state of health of the patient, but many methods are possible. If the tumor is superficial, the most common method is surgery where they remove a part of the whole stomach (gastrectomy) followed by reconstructive surgery in order to reconnect the esophagus to the small intestine.
Chemotherapy can be administered as well as surgery and can be carried out beforehand in order to reduce the size of the tumor; or afterwards, to get rid of cancerous cells. It can also be administered on its own in cases of metastatic cancers (cancers that spread) to slow the spreading of the cancer down.
Radiotherapy is less used to treat stomach cancer because it can cause undesirable secondary effects such as indigestion or diarrhea.