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Stomach Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

Cancer of the stomach is a cancerous tumour that usually develops in the lining of the stomach wall and may spread rapidly around the body certain foods, smoking and a high alcohol intake are risk factors.

Stomach cancer is more common over the age of 50 and twice as common in males. Oddly enough, it is more common in people with blood group A and sometimes runs in families.

Worldwide, stomach cancer is the second most common cancer after lung cancer. Stomach cancer is a particular problem in Japan and China, possibly because of dietary factors. However, in most other countries the disease is now less common, a change thought to be due to less smoked and salted food in the diet. There are about 10,000 new cases of stomach cancer each year in the UK In most cases, stomach cancer develops in the stomach lining. The cancer may spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Early diagnosis is rare because the symptoms are usually mild or overlooked, and by the time people seek medical help, the cancer has often spread.

Causes of Stomach Cancer

The causes of stomach cancer are not fully understood, but there are a number of factors at work.

  • Chronic gastritis due to infection with the H. pylori bacterium increases the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Certain diets may increase the risk, such as a diet with high intake of salt, pickled and smoked foods, and a low intake of fresh fruit and green vegetables.
  • Smoking and high alcohol intake are also risk factors.

Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

The early symptoms of stomach cancer are mild and vague, and many people ignore them. Any stomach symptom such as indigestion suddenly starting in middle age must be investigated. Symptoms include:

  • discomfort in the upper abdomen, indigestion, heartburn
  • pain in the stomach after eating not relieved by antacids and lasting longer than a few weeks
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • Passage of a black stool.

In many people, anaemia develops due to chronic minor bleeding from the stomach lining. Later on, swelling may be felt in the upper abdomen.

Treatment for Stomach Cancer

  • The only effective treatment for stomach cancer is early surgery to remove the tumour. However, this option is only suitable in about 1 in 5 cases because in others the cancer has already spread too widely to be operable.
  • The operation involves the removal of part or all of the stomach. The surrounding lymph nodes are also removed since they are possible sites of cancerous spread.
  • In cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, surgery may help improve life expectancy, although in some cases the operation may be done to relieve symptoms rather than attempt a cure.
  • Radiotherapy and chemotherapy slow the progress of the disease and relieve pain.
  • Strong painkillers may help relieve severe discomfort.

Measures for Stomach Cancer

  • If detected and treated early, stomach cancer
  • has a good cure rate. Some countries in which slomach cancer is common, such as Japan, have efficient screening programmes to detect the cancer early. In these countries, about
  • 4 in 5 people treated by surgery are alive five years after diagnosis. However, the outlook worldwide is generally poor, with only about
  • 1 in 5 affected people surviving for five years after diagnosis.

Diagnoses of Stomach Cancer

  • Your doctor may arrange for you to have an endoscopy, in which a thin, flexible viewing tube is used to examine the lining of the stomach. Samples of tissue are taken from abnormal areas of the stomach lining during the procedure and tested to look for the presence of cancerous cells.
  • You may also have a barium meal, in which a liquid barium mixture is swallowed to show the stomach clearly on an X-ray.
  • The doctor may arrange blood tests for anaemia, which may indicate that there has been bleeding from the stomach lining.
  • If a diagnosis of stomach cancer is confirmed, further investigations, such as CT scanning and blood tests, may be performed to check whether cancer has spread to other organs.

Complementary Treatment

No complementary therapy can cure cancer, but many have a role during orthodox treatment. Chakra balancing will help with symptom control, energy balance and relaxation, and offer support during rehabilitation programmes. Reflexology can offer support during orthodox treatment. Aromatherapy, especially when linked with massage, can be excellent at lessening the stress and tension associated with disease. Diet – a naturopath or nutritional therapist should be consulted. Other therapies to try: see Stress.

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