Popular country music star Toby Keith announced recently that he has been battling stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, for the past six months. Said Keith, “Last fall I was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I’ve spent the last 6 months receiving chemo, radiation, and surgery. So far, so good. I need time to breathe, recover, and relax.”
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 26,380 new cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed this year. The average age of people diagnosed with stomach cancer is 68, and every 6 out of 10 people diagnosed with stomach cancer are aged 65 and up. Also, males are much more likely to get stomach cancers than females.
Other risk factors include:
– Diet high in preserved, smoked, and salted foods
– Diet low in fruits and vegetables
– Cigarette smoking
– Drinking alcohol regularly
– Stomach surgery for ulcer
– Epstein-Barr virus
– Working in the coal, metal, timber, or rubber industries
– Family history of gastric cancer
Stomach cancer begins when cells in the stomach start to grow out of control. Stomach cancers tend to develop slowly over many years. Before the cancer develops, pre-cancerous changes often occur in the inner lining (mucosa) of the stomach. These early changes rarely cause symptoms, so they often go undetected.
There are many types of stomach cancers, although adenocarcinoma is the most common. Most cancers of the stomach (about 90% to 95%) are adenocarcinomas. These cancers develop from the gland cells in the innermost lining of the stomach (the mucosa). If you are told you have stomach cancer, it will almost always be an adenocarcinoma. There are 2 main types of stomach adenocarcinomas: intestinal and diffuse. The intestinal type tends to have a slightly better prognosis (outlook). The cancer cells are more likely to have certain gene changes that might allow for treatment with targeted drug therapy. The diffuse type tends to grow and spread more quickly. It is less common than the intestinal type, and it tends to be harder to treat.
Symptoms of stomach cancer may seem general or associated with other cancers or illness or disease. But if any of these symptoms persist, you must speak to your physician.
– Weight loss (without trying)
– Abdominal (belly) pain
– Poor appetite
– Vague discomfort in the abdomen, usually above the navel
– Feeling full after eating only a small meal
– Heartburn or indigestion, reflux
– Vomiting, with or without blood
– Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
– Blood in the stool
– Feeling tired or weak, as a result of having too few red blood cells (anemia)
– Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) if the cancer spreads to the liver
Please note: There is a very classic lymph node spread that can happen with stomach cancer – a spread to lymph nodes in the left side of the neck – and sometimes that can be caught in a physical exam. But you need to mention your symptoms to your doctor so they can make a point of feeling for that.
Because stomach cancer is not common your doctors typically don’t do routine screenings. However, if you are at a higher risk, talk to your doctor about any of the symptoms related to stomach cancer. Your doctor will start with a physical exam and look at your risk factors and medical and family history. They may do other tests to see if there are signs of cancer in your body from blood tests to an upper endoscopy, Upper GI test, CT scan, or biopsy.
Many treatments can fight stomach cancer. The one you and your doctor choose will depend on how long you’ve had the disease or how much it has spread in your body, named in stages from stage 0 – to stage IV. Treatments can range from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation.
You can lower your risk for stomach cancer in a few key ways:
Treat stomach infections. If you have ulcers from an H. pylori infection, get treatment. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria, and other drugs will heal the sores in the lining of your stomach to cut your risk of cancer.
Eat healthy. Get more fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate every day. They’re high in fiber and in some vitamins that can lower your cancer risk. Avoid very salty, pickled, cured, or smoked foods like hot dogs, processed lunch meats, or smoked cheeses. Keep your weight at a healthy level, too. Being overweight or obese can also raise your risk of the disease.
Don’t smoke. Your stomach cancer risk doubles if you use tobacco.
Watch aspirin or NSAID use. If you take daily aspirin to prevent heart problems or NSAID drugs for arthritis talk to your doctor about how these drugs might affect your stomach.
If you are experiencing any symptoms, contact your primary care physician.