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Stomach cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About stomach cancer

Stomach cancer refers to the malignancy of stomach which is a muscular organ placed in the upper abdominal region. It acts as a reservoir of food and is responsible for digestion of food. The cancer (abnormal growth of cells) commonly affects the innermost layer of cells in the stomach which are responsible for production of digestive enzymes. This kind of cancer is called ‘adenocarcinoma’. The stomach cancer is usually malignant, with a tendency to spread to both adjacent and distant organs of body.

Stomach cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Stomach cancer mainly affects individuals in older age group, though it may occur at any age. Men are more susceptible to acquiring stomach cancer as compared with women. Stomach cancer is less frequently encountered in whites as compared to African Americans and Hispanics.

Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer: Diagnosis

Stomach cancer, unfortunately does not present with distinct symptoms, leading to its late diagnosis. Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer in early stages include nausea, bloating sensation, stomach discomfort or indigestion. These features are quite vague and non-specific and may occur in other digestive ailments also. However as the cancer advances, clinical features like difficulty in swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting of blood or blood in the stool may be experienced.

Such features need to be evaluated comprehensively by a gastroenterologist who may conduct investigations like endoscopy wherein a flexible tube is passed into the stomach via mouth, which helps in direct visualization of the interior of stomach. Another invasive test known as biopsy may be conducted which involves removal of a small part of affected tissue and its pathological examination. The cancer in later stages may spread to other organs like the liver and the lungs which may be detected by a CT scan of the chest and the abdomen.

Causes and prevention of stomach cancer

Several risk factors may predispose individuals to stomach cancer and these include increasing age, smoking, and following a diet high in salted and pickled food. There is also a high risk of occurrence of stomach cancers in individuals with a history of Helicobacter Pylori infection and repeated stomach inflammation. Familial tendency has also been known to be a significant factor in this cancer. Following a healthy diet and timely treatment of H. Pylori infection may help in preventing stomach cancer.

Stomach cancer: Complications

Stomach cancer may spread to both adjacent and distant organs. Spread to distant organs like the liver and the lungs occur through bloodstream or through the lymphatic route. Spread to other organs increases the morbidity and mortality factor.

Stomach cancer: Treatment

The management of stomach cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, depending upon the stage and spread of cancer. In most of the cases, when the cancer has not spread beyond stomach, the primary treatment modality is surgical resection of cancerous tissue followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. In instances of spread of cancer to other organs, all the three modalities may be considered which may vary from individual to individual. The prognosis of stomach cancer is not so good since it is usually detected in the advanced stage when the cancer has spread to other organs. A long-term follow-up with abdominal CT scans or gastro-intestinal endoscopy is required to monitor any recurrence of such cancer.