Everything You Need To Know About Gastric Or Stomach Cancer
Gastric cancer, also known as stomach cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in Singapore, being the 6th and 8th most common cancer among men and women, respectively.
Gastric cancer develops from the cells found in the stomach’s inner mucosal lining, which grow abnormally, developing into tumours which are harmful when left untreated. As the cancer cells grow, they spread through the serosal and muscular layers of your stomach before reaching your lymph nodes and surrounding organs, such as your peritoneum, lungs, and liver.
While the exact causes of gastric cancer are not clear, some factors are found to lead to an increased risk of developing the cancer, such as:
- Having a diet rich in smoked and salty food
- Prior family history of gastric cancer
- Chronic gastritis, which is a long-term stomach inflammation
- Having a diet low in vegetables and fruits
- H. pylori infection
- Pernicious anaemia, a reduction in red blood cells due to the intestine’s inability to absorb Vitamin B12
Symptoms and signs of gastric cancer
The danger of gastric cancer is that it poses nearly no symptoms or signs in the initial stages, making it hard to detect early. In fact, the occurrence of gastric cancer is outweighed by its mortality rate, which is 4th and 5th highest among men and women, respectively.
Because of the lack of clear signs and symptoms, by the time individuals are diagnosed with gastric cancer, they are already in the later stages, hence the high mortality rate. Nevertheless, here are some of the common symptoms and signs of gastric cancer.
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Vomiting blood or black stool
- Abdominal pain
- Swallowing difficulty
- Nausea and vomiting symptoms
- Indigestion and heartburn
- Gassy and bloated stomach symptoms, especially after meals
However, many of these symptoms are commonly associated with other stomach conditions, such as gastritis or acid reflux. Hence, one of the main reasons why gastric cancer is detected late is that gastric cancer might not be the immediate suspect.
Types of gastric cancer
About 90 to 95 per cent of gastric cancers are adenocarcinomas, which commonly develop from the cells found in the stomach’s inner mucosal lining. Hence, if you are diagnosed with gastric cancer, it will nearly almost be adenocarcinoma. There are two critical types of gastric adenocarcinomas:
- Intestinal type: They tend to have slightly better outlooks. The cancer cells are more likely susceptible to treatments with targeted drug therapy.
- Diffuse type: They spread to other parts of your body more quickly and are a slightly rarer type than intestinal types. Hence, they are also more challenging to treat.
Diagnosis of gastric cancer
If you suffer from any of the abovementioned signs and symptoms, it is safe to conduct an immediate gastroenterology visit, during which the medical provider will review your medical history, inquire about your symptoms, and perform a physical examination involving feeling your stomach for a form of mass.
If gastric cancer is a key suspect, they may order additional tests to diagnose and stage gastric cancer further. Staging helps the medical provider assess the severity of gastric cancer, ranging from zero to four. Stage zero means the cancer cells have not spread beyond the stomach lining. Stage four means that it has spread to surrounding organs.
Here are some of the tests to help further diagnose gastric cancer:
- Upper endoscopy: One of the most common diagnosis methods, a thin tube with a small camera at the end is inserted into your mouth to inspect your stomach. During that process, a biopsy may also be conducted to collect tissue samples which will be tested in a lab.
- Radiologic tests: This includes MRI, barium swallow, and CT scan. Conducting radiologic tests can help to identify tumours and other cancer-related abnormalities.
Treatments for gastric cancer
Treatments depend on your gastric cancer stage. It usually involves a care team that may include your primary medical provider, an oncologist (cancer specialist), and a gastroenterologist (gastrointestinal specialist). The primary treatment method would be a surgical procedure, such as:
- Upper endoscopy: This is usually conducted in the initial stage when the gastric cancer cells have not spread beyond your stomach lining. In this procedure, the gastroenterologist cuts the tumour and removes it through your mouth.
- Gastrectomy: This is usually conducted if the gastric cancer cells have spread beyond your stomach lining. Depending on the severity, you might either go through subtotal gastrectomy, which involves removing only the affected section of your stomach, or total gastrectomy, which involves removing the entire stomach. Your oesophagus will then be directly connected to your small intestine.
Other treatments may involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, as well as palliative care.
Preventing gastric cancer
While you are not able to prevent gastric cancer from occurring, some of the steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the cancer are:
- Treat H. pylori infection as soon as you test positive
- Treat gastritis and gastric ulcers promptly
- Consume diets rich in vegetables and fruits, and less red meats and salts
- Avoid smoking and any tobacco-based products, including vaping
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
Gastric cancer is indeed a silent killer due to its unassuming signs and symptoms. Hence, it is vital that you detect it early by seeing a digestive care specialist, such as GUTCARE, as soon as you experience more than one of the symptoms mentioned above.
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