Stomach cancer is a disease in which the cells forming the inner lining of the stomach become abnormal and start to divide uncontrollably, forming a massor a tumor. The stomach is a J-shaped organ that lies in the abdomen, on theleft side. The esophagus (or the food pipe) carries the food from the mouth to the stomach. The stomach produces many digestive juices and acids that mixwith the food and aid in the process of digestion. The stomach is divided into five sections. Cancer can develop in any of the five sections of the stomach.
While the exact cause for stomach cancer has not been identified, having poornutritional habits, eating a lot of cured, pickled or smoked foods, eating foods high in starch and low in fiber, smoking, drinking alcohol, and vitaminA deficiency are believed to be risk factors for stomach cancer. Chronic (long-term) infection of the stomach with a bacterium (Helicobacter pylori) may lead to a particular type of cancer (lymphomas or mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT)) in the stomach. People who have had previous stomach surgery for ulcers or other conditions may have a higher likelihood of developing stomach cancers. Another risk factor is developing polyps (benign growths) in thelining of the stomach. Although polyps are not cancerous, some may have the potential to turn cancerous.
Stomach cancer is a slow-growing cancer and it can be years before it grows very large and produces distinct symptoms. In the early stages of the disease,the patient may only have mild discomfort, indigestion, heartburn, a bloatedfeeling after eating, and mild nausea. In the advanced stages, a patient will have loss of appetite and resultant weight loss, stomach pains, vomiting, and blood in the stool. Stomach cancer often spreads (metastasizes) to adjoining organs such as the esophagus, adjacent lymph nodes, liver, or colon.
When a doctor suspects stomach cancer from the symptoms described by the patient, a thorough physical examination will be conducted to assess all the symptoms. Laboratory tests may be ordered to check for blood in the stool.
More specific tests such as a barium x ray of the upper gastrointestinal tract may be ordered. In this test, the patient is given a chalky, white solutionof barium sulfate to drink. This solution coats the esophagus, the stomach,and the small intestine. Multiple x rays are then taken to identify any abnormalities in the lining of the stomach. In another test known as "upper endoscopy," a thin, flexible, lighted tube (endoscope) is passed down the patient'sthroat. The doctor can view the lining of the esophagus and the stomach through the tube. If any suspicious-looking patches are seen, some of the tissueis collected for microscopic examination. This is known as a biopsy.
The three standard modes of treatment available for stomach cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In the early stages of stomach cancer, surgery may be used to remove the cancer. If the cancer is too widespread and cannot be removed by surgery, an attempt will be made to remove blockage and control symptoms such as pain or bleeding. Depending on the location of the cancer, either the proximal portion or the distal part of the stomach may be removed. In a surgical procedure known as total gastrectomy, the entirestomach may be removed. Patients who have had parts of their stomachs removed can lead normal lives. Even when the entire stomach is removed, the patients quickly adjust to a different eating schedule. This involves eating small quantities of food mor! e frequently. High protein foods are generally recommended.
Chemotherapy involves administering anti-cancer drugs either intravenously (through a vein in the arm) or orally (in the form of pills). This can either be used as the primary mode of treatment or after surgery to destroy any cancerous cells that may have migrated to distant sites. Radiation therapy is often used after surgery to destroy the cancer cells that may not have been completely removed during surgery.
By avoiding many of the risk factors associated with the disease, it is possible to prevent many stomach cancers. Excessive amounts of salted, smoked, andpickled foods should be avoided. A diet that is high in fiber and low in fats and starches is believed to lower the risk of several cancers. The AmericanCancer Society recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and choosing six servings of food from other plant sources, such as grains, pasta, beans, cereals, and whole grain bread.