Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, refers to the cancer that develops in the lining of the stomach. Of the different types of cancer, cancer that develops in the glandular tissue, called adenocarcinoma, is the most common. Few stomach cancers develop in the connective tissue, like muscles and blood vessels. If diagnosed at an early stage, this cancer can be treated successfully. Unfortunately, the disease is found only at a later stage in many cases, affecting prognosis. As time passes, the cancer may spread deeper into the stomach wall. They may also metastasize into other organs, like the liver, pancreas, esophagus, and intestine. The actual cause of stomach cancer is still unknown.
A number of factors increase the risk of developing stomach cancer, including:
- Infection by Helicobacter pylori – This is a bacterium that infects the inner lining of the stomach causing inflammation and ulcers. Studies show that people who have this infection have an increased risk of developing stomach cancer.
- Gender – Men are more susceptible to developing this cancer, when compared to women.
- Stomach inflammation – The risk of gastric cancer increases with persistent stomach inflammation.
- Family history – The risk of this cancer increases two-fold if any close relatives have it.
- Genes – Presence of certain genes have been found to increase the chance of gastric cancer.
- Smoking – Smokers are more prone to developing this cancer, when compared to non-smokers.
- Age – The risk of stomach cancer increases with age, particularly after 70-years-old.
- Lifestyle – Habits, like poor diet, alcohol abuse, and lack of physical activity are associated with an increased risk of this cancer.
- Certain illnesses – Health issues, like chronic gastritis, pernicious anemia, and the presence of polyps increases the risk of stomach cancer.
- Exposure to chemicals – Exposure to certain chemicals as seen in mining, nickel refining, and timber processing also seems to be associated with a higher risk of the disease.
There are very few symptoms during the initial stages of stomach cancer.
As the disease progresses, the following may become more obvious:
In advanced stages of cancer the most common symptoms are:
- Discomfort in the stomach
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Presence of blood in stool
- Presence of blood in vomit
- Loss of weight
- Bloating feeling after the intake of food
Since many of the symptoms are similar to that of ulcers and infection, it is important to seek medical attention to determine a proper diagnosis.