Stomach cancer affects the stomach which is part of the digestive tract. The stomach is located in the abdominal cavity under the ribs and is responsible for turning solid foods into a liquid for further digestion. When cancer forms in this organ it can affect the way food is digested and cause other problems within the digestive tract.
What is Stomach Cancer?The stomach organ is made up of five different layers. The inner layer contains glands that produce juices that digest food. The submucosa layer provides support for the inner layer of the stomach. The nest layer, the muscle layer, provides the contractions that mix, mash, and move food through the digestive process. The next layer, the subserosa, provides support for the outer layer, which is responsible for covering the stomach organ and holding it in place. The most common layer for cancer to develop is the inner layer. Cancer develops here when cell development becomes abnormal. In regular development new cells are constantly produced to replace old and dying cells. In the case of cancer new cells grow in areas of the tissue that do not need them and old cells do not die and get absorbed by the body, as they should. This overgrowth leads to extra tissue, which forms a tumour. The resulting tissue mass, or tumour, can either be benign or malignant. Benign tumours are non-cancerous.
What Causes Stomach Cancer?Although doctors known that abnormal cell development is what causes stomach cancer, they do not understand what causes this abnormal development to take place. However, scientists have been able to determine certain risk factors that can increase the odds for developing stomach cancer.
Risk factors for Stomach CancerCertain criteria can increase the likelihood that you may develop stomach cancer. The most common risk factors include-
- A history of stomach problems- Suffering from certain condition such as gastritis, H. pylori infection, or any condition that results in chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, can increase an individual's chances of developing stomach cancer.
- Age- Stomach cancer is more common in people over the age of 72.
- Diet- A lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet can increase your risk for developing this disease. As can eating a diet high in foods that are pickled, smoked, or salted.
- Smoking- Although not clearly understood it is believed that smoking tobacco increases your risk of developing stomach cancer.
Symptoms of Stomach CancerStomach cancer that is still in the early stages of development does not cause any clear symptoms. Normally, the symptoms of the disease only present after the tumour has grown or has infected other organs in the body. As the disease progresses the most common symptoms include pain or discomfort on the abdominal area, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and a feeling of fullness after consuming a small meal. The pressure of the growing tumour against the stomach wall or adjacent organs causes most of these symptoms.
Diagnosing and Treating Stomach CancerIf you suffer from any of the above symptoms your doctor will want to run a few tests to rule out other medical conditions and confirm a diagnosis of stomach cancer. These tests usually include a physical examination, x-rays of the stomach, and endoscopy, and a biopsy. During the physical exam the doctor will check the abdominal area for swelling, fluid retention, and pain. If his findings require more tests he will begin with the x-rays.
X-rays of the stomach and oesophagus are called an Upper GI series. In this procedure the patient is given a barium solution to drink that highlights the stomach and oesophagus on the x-ray in order to give the doctor a clearer view of the tissues. Usually x-rays are followed up with an endoscopy. In this procedure a small tube is interested down the throat and into the stomach. The tube houses a device that allows the doctor to look at the inside of the stomach. When abnormalities are found from the above tests a biopsy is usually ordered. This procedure involves the removal of a small piece of tissue form the lining of the stomach. This sample is then analysed under a microscope for signs of cancer cells. Once a firm diagnosis is made treatment can begin.
Common treatment options for stomach cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Radiation therapy involves the use of radiation beams aimed at the cancerous cells to destroy the tumour. Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer drugs that are taken orally to kill the cancerous cells.
Surgery for stomach cancer comes in two forms. In a partial gastrectomy the doctor only removes the part of the stomach that is infected with cancer cells. In a total gasterectomy the doctor removes the entire stomach organ. In this procedure the doctor also connects the oesophagus to the small intestine and creates a new stomach pouch with tissue from the intestines.
Depending on the location, progression, and severity of the disease many treatment options are very effective at curing or controlling stomach cancer.