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November is Stomach Cancer Awareness Month: Here’s What You Need to Know

Stomach Cancer Awareness

An estimated 26,000 new cases of stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) will have been diagnosed in 2021. Stomach cancer can grow in different parts of the stomach. The location of the cancer affects the symptoms, treatment, and outcomes.

Here’s what you need to know about stomach cancer:

Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

The early stages of stomach cancer don’t often cause symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • A full feeling after eating a small amount
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, sometimes with blood
  • Swelling or fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Blood in stool
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin) if cancer has spread to the liver

These symptoms don’t always mean cancer. They can also be caused by a number of other problems, like a viral infection. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, especially if they don’t improve.

Who Is At Risk for Stomach Cancer?

There are many possible risk factors for stomach cancer, including:

  • Gender – Stomach cancer is more common in men.
  • Age – Risk increases with age; most patients are over 65.
  • Ethnicity – It’s most common in Hispanic Americans, Blacks, Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • Geography – North America and Africa have less stomach cancer than East Asia, Eastern Europe, and South and Central America.
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection – People with stomach cancer have a higher rate of H. pylori than those without stomach cancer.
  • Obesity – Being overweight or obese is linked to cancers of the upper part of the stomach.
  • Diet – People have a higher risk if their diet includes large amounts of processed, grilled, or charcoaled meats, and little to no fruits.
  • Alcohol – Drinking more than three alcoholic drinks per day increase your risk.
  • Tobacco – The rate of stomach cancers is nearly doubled in smokers.
  • History of stomach surgery – Those who’ve had part of the stomach removed due to non-cancerous diseases are at higher risk.
  • History of stomach polyps – Adenomatous polyps can sometimes lead to cancer.
  • Family history – A family history of stomach cancer, with or without an inherited cancer syndrome, increases risk.
  • Certain occupations – Workers in the coal, metal, and rubber industries have higher rates of stomach cancer.
  • Blood type – Type A has a higher risk of stomach cancer.

Uncommon conditions like pernicious anemia, Menetrier disease (hypertrophic gastropathy), inherited cancer syndromes, common variable immune deficiency, and Epstein-Barr virus, for example, increase the risk of developing stomach cancer.

How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed?

Stomach cancer screening is not routinely done in the US, so most stomach cancer is diagnosed when someone sees their doctor about noticeable symptoms. There is no single test for stomach cancer. Diagnosis may include:

  • History – your medical history, symptoms, and risk factors
  • Physical exam – including checking your abdomen for unusual changes or symptoms
  • Blood test – to check for anemia caused by bleeding in the stomach
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – to test for hidden blood in the stool
  • Upper endoscopy – a tiny camera on a thin tube that lets the doctor see from your esophagus down to your small intestine and take small tissue samples if needed
  • Biopsy – if tissue samples were taken during the endoscopy, they can be tested for cancer
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series – a type of X-ray that allows your doctor to view the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and part of the small intestine
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan – a special type of X-ray that produces images of soft tissues in and around the stomach
  • Endoscopic ultrasound –a test that passes a small tube into the stomach to use sound waves to generate images of the stomach and nearby structures
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan – a test that uses a special dye to locate areas of high chemical activity in your body, like cancer cells
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a type of test that can create images of soft tissues in your body

How Is Stomach Cancer Treated?

Treatment is very individual and will depend on factors like location and stage of the cancer, your age, overall health, and personal preferences. You may have two or more treatments, including:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Cancer treatment is usually a team effort. During treatment, your care team may include:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • Surgical oncologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Physician assistant
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Social worker
  • Nutrition specialist
    and others

Can Stomach Cancer be Prevented?

You may be able to reduce your risk for stomach cancer with lifestyle choices, like:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular physical activity
  • Avoid or limit alcohol
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins. Cut back on red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and processed foods.

If you have a hereditary risk factor, like Lynch syndrome or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC), talk to your doctor about your risk and the best steps you can take to stay healthy.

If you’d like to talk to a doctor about your risk of stomach cancer or are experiencing symptoms of stomach cancer that aren’t improving, don’t delay and schedule an appointment now!

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