Stomach cancer begins when cancer cells form in the inner lining of yourstomach. These cells can grow into a tumor. Also called gastric cancer, the disease usually grows slowly over many years.
If you know the symptoms it causes, you and your doctor may be able to spot it early, when it’s easiest to treat.
What Causes Stomach Cancer?
Scientists don’t know exactly what makes cancer cells start growing in the stomach. But they do know a few things that can raise your risk for the disease. One of them is infection with a common bacteria, H. pylori, which causes ulcers. Inflammation in your gut called gastritis, long-lasting anemia, and growths in your stomach called polyps also can make you more likely to get cancer.
Other things that seem to play a role in raising the risk include:
- Being overweight or obese
- A diet high in smoked, pickled, or salty foods
- Stomach surgery for an ulcer
- Type-A blood
- Epstein-Barr virus infection
- Certain genes
- Working in coal, metal, timber, or rubber industries
- Exposure to asbestos
Early on, stomach cancer may cause:
- Feeling bloated after you eat a meal
- Slight nausea
- Loss of appetite
Just having indigestion or heartburn after a meal doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if you feel these symptoms a lot, talk to your doctor. He can see if you have other risk factors and test you to look for any problems.
As stomach tumors grow, you may have more serious symptoms, such as:
- Stomach pain
- Blood in your stool
- Weight loss for no reason
- Trouble swallowing
- Yellowish eyes or skin
- Swelling in your stomach
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Weakness or feeling tired
Getting a Diagnosis
Your doctor will give you a physical exam. He'll also ask about your medical history to see if you have any risk factors for stomach cancer or any family members who’ve had it. Then, he might give you some tests, including:
- Blood tests to look for signs of cancer in your body.
- Upper endoscopy. Your doctor will put a thin, flexible tube with a small camera down your throat to look into your stomach.
- Upper GI series test. You’ll drink a chalky liquid with a substance called barium. The fluid coats your stomach and makes it show up more clearly on X-rays.
- CT scan . This is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
- Biopsy . Your doctor takes a small piece of tissue from your stomach to look at under a microscope for signs of cancer cells. He might do this during an endoscopy.
Many treatments can fight stomach cancer. The one you and your doctor choose will depend on how long you’ve had the disease or how much it has spread in your body, called the stage of your cancer.
Surgery. Your doctor might remove part of your stomach or other tissues nearby that have cancer cells. Surgery gets rid of the tumor and stops cancer from spreading to other parts of your body. If your disease is in a more advanced stage, your doctor might need to remove all of your stomach.
Some tumors can keep food from moving in and out of your stomach. In that case, you might have surgery to put in a stent, a device that keeps the pathways open.
Chemotherapy. Drugs kill your cancer cells or keep them from growing. You can take them as pills or through an IV at a clinic. Chemo usually takes several weeks. The drugs can cause side effects, but your doctor can help you find ways to feel better during treatment.
Radiation. High-energy waves or particles can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Your doctor may use an X-ray or other machine to beam radiation at the spot where your tumor is.
Chemoradiation. Your doctor might use this mix of chemotherapy and radiation to shrink your tumor before surgery.
Targeted drugs. These newer drugs are different because they fight only cancer cells. Other treatments, like chemo and radiation, can kill healthy cells along with diseased ones. As a result, targeted therapies have fewer side effects than these other treatments.
How Can I Prevent Stomach Cancer?
Treat stomach infections. If you have ulcers from an H. pylori infection, get treatment. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria, and other drugs will heal the sores in the lining of your stomach to cut your risk of cancer.
Eat healthy. Get more fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate every day. They’re high in fiber and in some vitamins that can lower your cancer risk. Avoid very salty, pickled, cured, or smoked foods like hot dogs, processed lunch meats, or smoked cheeses. Keep your weight at a healthy level, too. Being overweight or obese can also raise your risk of the disease.
Don’t smoke. Your stomach cancer risk doubles if you use tobacco.
Watch aspirin or NSAID use. If you take daily aspirin to prevent heartproblems or NSAID drugs for arthritis, talk to your doctor about how these drugs might affect your stomach.
Risk factor is anything that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed. But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.
Risk factors for stomach cancer
Scientists have found some risk factors that make a person more likely to develop stomach cancer.
- Gender: Stomach cancer is more common in men than in women.
- Age: Risk increases with age.
- Ethnicity: In the United States, stomach cancer is more common in Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian Pacific Islanders than it is in non-Hispanic whites.
- Where a person lives: Worldwide, stomach cancer is more common in Japan, China, Southern and Eastern Europe, and South and Central America. This disease is less common in Northern and Western Africa, South Central Asia, and North America.
- Infection with the bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
- MALT lymphoma of the stomach, which is also caused by infection with H. pylori.
- Diet: An increased risk of stomach cancer is seen in people with diets high in smoked foods, salted fish and meats, and pickled vegetables. The risk of stomach cancer seems to be lowered by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Tobacco use
- Being overweight or obese
- Earlier stomach surgery: people who have had part of their stomach removed to treat other problems like ulcers have a higher risk of stomach cancer.
- Pernicious anemia
- Menetrier disease, a rare disease that involves changes in the stomach lining
- Type A blood
- Certain inherited cancer syndromes
- Family history: People with close family members (parents, siblings, and children) who have had stomach cancer are more likely to get this disease.
- A type of stomach polyp called adenomatous or adenoma sometimes change into stomach cancer.
- Certain types of work: Workers in the coal, metal, and rubber industries seem to have a higher risk of getting stomach cancer.
- Common variable immunodeficiency, a condition where the immune system can’t make enough antibodies in response to germs.
The Best Foods for Stomach Cancer Patients
An important part of treatment for stomach cancer is a nutritional diet with the correct amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins and calories to maintain strength and aid in the healing process. Stomach cancer patients need a diet low in carbohydrates and sweets and high in protein. Your doctor's advice and that of a registered dietitian can help you determine which foods best meet your nutrition needs.
People suffering from stomach cancer need extra protein and calories. Drinking extra milk and eating more eggs and cheese are good ways to get this protein. For extra calories adding gravies and sauces to your food is recommended, although always check with your doctor to determine what nutritional diet suits you or ask to be referred to a registered dietitian, especially if you are losing weight.
Increasing the fat content of your foods by adding butter or eating puddings and ice cream can help you with the problem called dumping syndrome, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure, with or without palpitations, and a drop in blood sugar with a resulting feeling of weakness and the need to sit or lie down.
Stomach cancer patients need extra iron, calcium and vitamin D from their diets. Sardines, cabbage, broccoli, milk, eggs, cheese and bread provide calcium. Vitamin D is found in margarine, butter, oily fish and eggs. The iron in red meat is more easily absorbed by the body than the iron found in fish, soy, egg yolk, leafy green vegetables and dried fruit.
High-Fiber Foods in Small Portions
While choosing whole grains such as whole wheat bread and whole grain pastas and rice is advised because of their high fiber content, fiber can make stomach cancer patients feel uncomfortably full. Beans and lentils as well as leafy greens and cabbage can have the same effect. It may be necessary to avoid eating too much of these foods at one time. Eat every hour or so to avoid upsetting your stomach and combine one high-fiber food with other foods easy on the stomach, such as soft, bland foods, to give yourself a relatively low-fiber meal.
Stomach cancer patients often experience nausea. Eating bland foods such as crackers or dry toast can help you avoid this problem, as can eating food at room temperature to decrease its taste and odor. If a bad taste persists in your mouth between meals, try sucking on a mint or lemon drop.
Although sipping clear liquids slowly that are served cold, such as apple juice, broth, tea and ginger ale, can help stomach cancer patients, too many liquids can produce the dumping syndrome. Try eating gelatin or popsicles or limiting your liquid intake to before and after meals.
Tart or Sour Foods
Sweets in general are to be avoided, except if you regularly experience the dumping syndrome after eating. In that case you may want to try getting some sugar between meals to keep up your blood sugar levels. Because stomach cancer patients often have problems with vomiting, eating tart or sour foods, though, can be easier to keep down.