Stomach Cancer – What are the Symptoms and causes

Did you know that early detection and treatment of stomach cancer before it spreads to other organs can increase your 5-year survival rate to 70%?

Due to advancements in medical science, the overall incidence of people dying from stomach cancer worldwide has decreased, yet it remains one of the leading causes of cancer deaths. It is also one of the leading causes of cancer in India. Thus, it is important for us to dabble more in this subject and understand it better so we can take the necessary steps to prevent it in time.

What is stomach cancer?

Cancer of any form includes cells that grow exponentially, and as cells are present in different parts of our body, thus, any of them can become cancerous and spread to other areas of the body. Simply put, when this out-of-control cell growth happens in the stomach, it is known as stomach or gastric cancer.

Stomach cancer develops slowly over a long period of time. The pre-cancerous changes occur in the stomach’s inner lining and rarely cause any symptoms. Thus, it goes unnoticed.

There are several different forms of stomach cancer. The most common one is called Adenocarcinoma. It is mainly of 2 types:

Intestinal Type-  It happens as a result of progression from chronic gastritis. It has a slightly better prognosis.

  • Diffuse Type– Unlike intestinal adenocarcinoma, it does not have a defined reason behind its fast progression. But it does spread more quickly than its intestinal counterpart and is harder to treat.

What are the signs I need to look out for stomach cancer?:

  • Unintended weight loss.
  • Stomach ache.
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia), can be severe and persistent.
  • Nausea and vomiting, particularly vomiting up solid food shortly after eating
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount of food (early satiety), because of the growing cancerous tumor mass.
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating of the stomach after meals.

As many of its symptoms are common symptoms of curable everyday discomfort such as indigestion, acidity, etc., it usually goes unnoticed until it has progressed to an advanced stage, at which the pain becomes more constant and severe. Depending on the section of the stomach the cancer starts, the symptoms, and treatment also vary.

If you notice any of the symptoms, you should visit a medical professional who will guide you to a gastroenterologist (a doctor who treats diseases of the digestive tract) if they suspect stomach cancer. The gastroenterologist will give you a full examination and confirm the cause of the illness before guiding you to an oncologist, which can be a medical or a surgical one depending on the stage and treatment plan.

Can acidity cause cancer?

Severe acidity if left untreated, can cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acidity happens when the stomach acid that helps digestion gets washed up to the esophagus, which can give a heartburn-like sensation. This frequently happens when one overeats or lies down too soon after eating.

Severe acidity is also one of many causes of Esophageal Cancer.

What are certain risk factors of stomach cancer?:

Age: It is more likely to occur in people above the age of 55 years

Gender: Compared to females, males are twice as likely to develop it.

H. pylori Bacterium: Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori is a common bacterium responsible for causing ulcers and stomach inflammation and is also responsible for causing stomach cancer. Testing for this bacterium is available and can be treated with antibiotics before it has progressed to an advanced stage of stomach cancer.

Family History: People from a family where stomach cancer has been very prevalent are at greater risk of developing it. Certain inherited genetic disorders, such as hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, Lynch syndrome, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC), and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), may also increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Diet: Consuming a diet high in salt or salt-preserved food increases the risk of stomach cancer. Tobacco, alcohol, and obesity are also leading causes of stomach cancer.

Health Conditions and Previous Surgeries:

People who have had stomach surgery, pernicious anemia (a condition in which the stomach cannot take in enough vitamin B12, causing a decrease in red blood cells), or achlorhydria (a condition in which hydrochloric acid which helps digest food is absent in the gastric juices) are more susceptible to stomach cancer.

How to treat stomach cancer?:

The treatment plan for stomach cancer depends on a number of factors such as stage, size of the tumor, possible side effects, type, patient’s overall health, and preference.

The common treatment methods employed are:


It involves the removal of the cancerous tumor via surgical methods. Depending on the cancer stage, the doctor may recommend a non-surgical treatment.

Radiation Therapy:

It involves the usage of high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. It is given over a period of time by scheduling a specific number of treatment rounds for the cancer patient. Side effects may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements.

Therapies Using Medications:

Medications often destroy cancer cells in a stomach cancer treatment plan. The common types of medication used for this type of cancer are:

  • Chemotherapy– These drugs destroy cancer cells by keeping them from growing, dividing, and making more cells. Its side effects include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
  • Targeted Therapy– It focuses on targeting the specific genes, proteins, or tissue environment that contribute to the growth of a particular type of cancer. For stomach cancer, the targeted therapy includes; HER2-targeted therapy and Anti-angiogenesis therapy.
  • Immunotherapy– It focuses on improving your body’s immune system to fight off cancer. Common side effects include skin reactions, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, and weight changes.

How can you prevent stomach cancer?

  • Eating Healthy: A diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, which act as natural antioxidants against cancer, is the best choice. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, etc., are a great choice. The American Cancer Society recommends fish, chicken, beans, whole grain bread, pasta, and cereal as healthier alternatives to prevent cancer.
  • Habits to let go off: Smoking, firsthand or secondhand, contributes to stomach cancer, as does alcohol and tobacco. Letting go of these habits will surely increase your chances of not getting stomach cancer.
  • Exercise: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves a good diet and proper exercise. Regular exercise will keep you in shape and boost your immune system, helping you keep stomach cancer at bay.
  • Don’t miss your doctor’s appointments:

Getting your body regularly checked by your doctor will help keep an eye on any ulcers or H.pylori infections that may occur and treat them in time to prevent them from developing into stomach cancer.

If you experience any symptoms of stomach cancer, don’t delay consulting your doctor. Receiving the proper medical treatment and care is the only way to steer clear of any related medical complications.

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