Stomach cancer affects around 7000 people in the UK each year. Of all the different types of stomach cancer, 95% of cases occur when cells become cancerous in the stomach lining, often developing into a tumour. Also referred to as gastric cancer, stomach cancers may develop slowly over several years. According to Cancer Research UK, around 75% of cases of stomach cancer in the UK are preventable. The earlier it is diagnosed, the higher the chances of survival.
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
In its early stages, stomach cancer symptoms can be easily confused with other less life-threatening conditions. These include:
- Constant stomach pain
- Constant heartburn
- Feeling bloated after eating
- Trapped wind and regular burping
In the advanced stage, symptoms include:
- Black stools, or blood in stool
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Stomach pain
As early symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, it is always advisable to seek medical advice from a specialist to check them in order to be on the safe side. An early diagnosis can, in some cases, make the difference between life and death.
In order to make a diagnosis, a doctor may check the stomach for lumps and sensitivity. If stomach cancer is suspected, the patient will usually have to provide a sample of their stool, and take a blood test and X-ray.
What are the causes of stomach cancer?
Although it is unknown why exactly cancerous cells begin to grow in the stomach, there are a number of factors that are known to increase one’s risk of stomach cancer. For example, the common bacteria that causes stomach ulcers H. pylori can raise one’s chances of developing stomach cancer. People with gastritis, polyps, or long-lived anaemia are also more likely to develop stomach cancer. Other risk factors to consider are:
- Sex - Men are nearly twice as likely to get stomach cancer as women
- Age - Stomach cancer is more prevalent in people over the age of 55. According to Cancer Research UK, 51% of stomach cancer cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 75
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Exposure to asbestos
- Diet – People who eat a lot of processed, pickled, or salty foods are more at risk of stomach cancer, as are those who do not eat enough fibre
- Family history – People with close relatives who have had stomach cancer also have a higher chance of developing the condition
- Working in metal, rubber, timber, or coal industries
- Epstein-Barr virus infection
- Having stomach surgery (to remove an ulcer, for example) can also make it more probable for somebody to develop stomach cancer
- Being overweight or obese
- According to Cancer Research UK, stomach cancer is more prevalent in deprived areas in the UK
How is stomach cancer treated?
Stomach cancer treatments can vary depending on each case. Unfortunately, stomach cancer is often incurable, hence the importance of an early diagnosis. If this is the case, a specialist may recommend chemotherapy or radiotherapy in order to ease symptoms and make life easier.
In some cases, the patient may have to undergo surgery in order to have the cancerous tissue in their stomach removed. If all the malignant tissue can be removed then the stomach cancer is generally seen as cured.
A specialist may also recommend a gastrectomy, wherein all or part of the stomach is removed.