Also called stomach cancer, gastric cancer is cancer that arises in the stomach’s inner lining. This cancer usually develops gradually over the years. One of the most common treatment options includes surgery. However, you may need other treatments before and after the surgery as well.
What is Gastric Cancer?
The stomach is a J-shaped muscular sac that is part of the digestive system. It is located in the upper abdomen, The stomach is a muscular sac located just below the ribs, Stomach receives and holds the food consumed and then helps in breaking it down and digesting it.
The stomach wall consists of five layers of tissue. The layers are – serosa, subserosa, muscle, submucosa, and mucosa (outermost to innermost layer). Gastric cancer begins in the mucosa and starts to spread towards the outermost layers.
The cancer cells can affect any part of the stomach. In most cases, the cancer cells affect the main part of the stomach, known as the stomach body. However, in some cases, stomach cancer may affect the area where the stomach and the esophagus meet, known as the gastroesophageal junction.
What are the Symptoms of Gastric Cancer?
The symptoms may appear different in every individual. In the initial stages, gastric cancer may cause the following symptoms:
- Feeling bloated after having a meal
- Loss of appetite
As gastric cancer starts spreading, you may experience severe symptoms such as
- Dark stools
- Stomach pain
- Swelling in the stomach
- Unexplained weight loss
- Yellowing of eyes or skin
- Trouble swallowing
Having indigestion or heartburn may not always indicate gastric cancer. But if you experience these symptoms frequently, consult a doctor.
When Should You Visit the Doctor?
If the above-mentioned symptoms and signs occur, immediately seek medical assistance. The doctor may conduct a series of tests to diagnose the problem and prescribe a treatment option.
What Causes Gastric Cancer?
The exact cause of what causes stomach cancer is not known. However, doctors believe that stomach cancer, as any other causes begins when there are changes in the DNA of the cells. The DNA contains information that tells the cells what to do. These changes in the DNA tell the cells to grow rapidly. The abnormal cells do not die and keep growing to form a tumor that invades and destroys healthy cells.
Other factors that may contribute to the cause of gastric cancer are bacteria present inside the stomach, known as H. pylori. This bacteria causes stomach ulcers that may transform into cancer. Certain growths in your stomach called polyps, a type of long-lasting anemia called pernicious anemia, or an inflammation in the gut called gastritis are also suspected of causing gastric cancer.
What are the Risk Factors Linked with Gastric Cancer?
The factors that play a role in increasing your risk of developing gastric cancer are as follows:
- Stomach surgery for ulcers
- A diet low in fruits or vegetables
- A diet high in salty, spicy, and smoked food
- Gastro esophageal reflux disease
- Stomach polyps
- Gastritis – long-term stomach inflammation
- Family history of gastric cancer
- Epstein-Barr virus infection
How is Gastric Cancer Diagnosed?
To diagnose gastric cancer, the doctor may conduct a series of tests and examinations such as
- Upper GI endoscopy: This test involves passing down a tube equipped with a camera down your throat and into the stomach. It helps the doctor look for signs of cancer in the stomach.
- Biopsy: If the doctor finds any suspicious areas inside the stomach during an endoscopy, a biopsy may be done. It involves taking a sample of the suspicious tissue for laboratory testing.
- Barium swallow: The doctor may give you a chalky drink with a substance called barium to swallow. It will coat the stomach and make it more visible on the X-rays.
- CT scan: The CT scan will help the doctor get detailed images of the stomach and the gastrointestinal system.
What are the Treatment Options Available for Gastric Cancer?
Procedures and tests that are used to treat gastric cancer include the following:
Surgery involves removing the cancerous tissue and some of the healthy tissues around it. The surgeon may either remove the affected part of the stomach and the healthy tissues surrounding it (subtotal gastrectomy) or remove the entire stomach and some of the nearby healthy tissues (total gastrectomy).
- Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug therapy focuses on the cancer cells. The therapy aims at killing the cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy
This therapy uses radiation such as high-energy X-rays to kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing.
This therapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to help shrink the tumor. In some cases, it may also be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Also known as biological therapy, immunotherapy makes use of the patient’s immune system to fight gastric cancer. Substances made by the body or artificially prepared in the laboratory are used to restore or boost the body’s defenses against cancer.
This treatment option combines chemotherapy and radiation therapy to increase the effects of both in fighting cancer.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection
It is performed using an endoscope to remove pre-cancerous growths or early-stage gastric cancer from the digestive tract lining.
What Complications can Arise if Gastric Cancer is Left Untreated?
If left untreated, the following complications may arise:
- Small bowel obstruction
- Ascites – fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Vomiting and nausea
- Difficulty eating or drinking
- Gastric perforation
Can Gastric Cancer be Prevented?
The following measures can help you prevent gastric cancer:
- Follow a healthy diet
Include fruits and vegetables in your diet, as these contain a high amount of fiber that can help in lowering your risk of developing cancer. Reduce eating food items that are salty, cured, or pickled.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Being obese or even overweight may increase your risk of developing cancer. If you are overweight, consult your doctor about exercises or diet that may help you lose weight.
- Quit smoking
The risk of developing gastric cancer doubles when you smoke.
Gastric cancer is a type of cancer that can cause severe pain and discomfort. If you experience symptoms of gastric cancer, immediately consult a doctor. An early diagnosis and the right treatment can help reduce the chances of further complications.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Can you feel the tumour in the stomach?
In advanced cases, the tumor may cause visible swelling and change the shape of the abdomen.
2. Does gastric cancer spread fast?
Gastric cancer is a slow-growing cancer that usually takes over a year to develop. In most cases, there are no visible symptoms initially. However, as the cancer progresses, a variety of symptoms may appear.