Gastric cancer, also known as stomach cancer, begins in the stomach, which has three layers of tissue. Ninety-five percent of gastric cancers are adenocarcinomas, which develop from the mucosa, the cells that form the stomach's innermost lining. As gastric cancer progresses, it can grow through the walls of the stomach to nearby organs, or can spread to nearby lymph nodes. Other types of malignant tumors that can form in the stomach are lymphomas, gastric sarcomas and carcinoids, but they occur rarely.
Risk Factors for Gastric Cancer
Although its specific cause is unknown, certain factors may increase the risk of developing gastric cancer. Men are twice as likely as women, and African Americans are more likely than Caucasians, to get the disease. Additional factors for developing gastric cancer include the following:
- Having a Helicobacter pylori infection
- Being an obese male
- Having stomach polyps
- Eating a diet high in salt and low in fruits and vegetables
- Smoking or excessive alcohol consumption
- Chronic gastritis
- Pernicious anemia
- Having certain hereditary conditions
Age also plays a factor, with most cases diagnosed in those 55 years of age and older.
Symptoms of Gastric Cancer
In its earliest stages, gastric cancer may be asymptomatic, or have signs or symptoms that are similar to those of other conditions. Early in the disease's progress, symptoms may include the following:
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Stomach bloating after eating
In the later stages of gastric cancer, symptoms may include the following:
- Vomiting blood
- Blood in the stool
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
If gastric cancer is suspected, a series of tests is performed in order to detect and diagnose the condition. These tests may include a physical exam, blood chemistry studies, a complete blood count, an upper endoscopy and various imaging tests.
Treatment of Gastric Cancer
Treatment for gastric cancer depends on how far the disease has progressed, and the age and overall health of the patient. The four types of standard treatment for gastric cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and chemoradiation. Some doctors choose to combine two or more of these treatments in order to achieve the best possible result.
Most patients undergo surgery to remove part or all of the stomach, and any other nearby affected tissue, in an attempt to remove all traces of cancer. Even in the disease's most advanced stages, surgery can prevent tumors from bleeding, or from blocking passage into or out of the stomach.