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Stomach Cancer

What is stomach cancer?

Listed as the 5th most common cancer on a global scale, stomach cancer is a malignancy that results from the excessive growth and multiplication of the cells lining the stomach. This is also referred to as gastric cancer. The stomach forms a part of the digestive system and is responsible for storing the food that we eat and breaking it down for digestion. The cancer can be further categorized into different types, depending upon the area of the stomach that has been affected, and is most likely to develop in the gastroesophageal junction.

What are the symptoms that you need to look out for?

The symptoms associated with stomach cancer include:

  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Feeling bloated or full even after eating a little
  • Frequent or persistent heartburn
  • Indigestion, which is marked by the inability to digest food properly
  • Feeling nauseated
  • Severe stomach pain and discomfort
  • Unintended loss of weight
  • Vomiting

What causes Stomach Cancer?

Though it is not yet known what causes stomach cancer, it is believed to be a result of undesirable genetic mutations in the DNA of the cells lining the stomach. This causes the cells to divide uncontrollably, and gradually replace all the healthy cells and tissues.

What are the various risk factors associated with Stomach Cancer?

Various factors that are likely to elevate your risks of developing stomach cancer include:

  • Sex – Stomach cancer is more common in males as compared to females
  • Age – Though the cancer can affect people of any age group, the risks spike up as one crosses 60 years of age
  • Helicobacter pylori infection – Long term infection with H pylori can lead to atrophic gastritis and trigger pre-cancerous changes.
  • Being overweight or obese – Excessive body weight, again, is linked to elevated risks of stomach cancer
  • Diet – The risks of developing stomach cancer are considerably increased in people who consume salt-preserved food, smoked meat and pickled vegetables.
  • Alcohol consumption – Excessive alcohol intake can damage the lining of the stomach and make it more vulnerable to pre-cancerous changes.
  • Underlying medical conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease, stomach polyps, common variable immune deficiency and Epstein-Barr virus infection.

Screening and diagnosis

  • Upper endoscopy - It involves the use of a tiny camera to visualise the stomach and look for the signs of cancer.
  • Imaging test - These include procedures like CT (computerized tomography) scan and x-rays to generate the images of the patient's stomach and look for any lesion or abnormality.
  • Biopsy - It involves the thorough examination of a tissue sample collected from the patient's stomach
  • Blood investigations - These are carried out to determine the extent to which the cancer has spread and determine which organ has been affected.
  • Exploratory surgery - This is done to check whether the cancer has spread beyond the stomach. The surgery is performed laparoscopically by making several small incisions in the abdomen.

Treatment

Surgery - Surgical interventions are performed with the goal of removing the cancer and the affected tissues. There are several different approaches that can be used to carry out the surgery. These are:

  • Endoscopic resection - This involves the use of endoscopic guidance and special tools to access early-stage tumours via laparoscopic means. It is done for extracting tumours from the inner lining of the stomach.
  • Subtotal gastrectomy - It involves the removal of the diseased part of the stomach along with some healthy surrounding tissues.
  • Total gastrectomy - It involves the surgical removal of the entire stomach along with some surrounding tissues.

Chemotherapy - It involves the intravenous or oral administration of certain drugs that target and kill the cancerous cells. These may be given before the surgery to shrink the tumour and make it easier to extract it, or after the surgery to target the cancerous cells that have been left intact during the surgery.

Radiation therapy - It involves the use of high energy radiations emitted by X rays or protons. The help to target the cancer cells externally or from within the patient's body.

Targeted drug therapy - These treatments especially curated to target specific weaknesses in the cancerous cells, which eventually causes them to die. These are often combined with chemotherapy to address advanced stomach cancers.

Immunotherapy - This involves the use of special drugs that boost the patient's immune system and help it to fight cancerous cells. This is usually recommended when stomach cancer has reached an advanced stage.

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