Stomach cancer is rare in the United States. In 2016, 113,054 people were living with this disease, and the number of new cases every year is just 7.4 per 100,000 Americans. However, because it is usually diagnosed in its later stages, it is one of the deadlier cancers.
95 percent of stomach malignancies are adenocarcinomas. They arise from the glandular tissue in the lining of the stomach. Other types of tumors are lymphomas and leiomyosarcomas. Lymphomas are tumors of the lymphatic system. Leiomyosarcomas affect the smooth muscle tissues. Both can develop in the stomach but account for just five percent of cases.
Stomach cancer produces almost no symptoms until it becomes advanced. Stomach cancer symptoms include:
Risk factors are characteristics that increase the likelihood of developing a disease. But, their presence does mean that you will get it. Some of the risk factors for stomach cancer include:
Your doctor will perform a medical examination and ask you about your symptoms. She will also likely order some tests to try and find out more about your condition. These tests may include:
Like most malignancies, there are probably many causes for stomach cancer, which is partly why it is so hard to cure. Research has shown some correlation between the inflammation of the stomach lining and stomach cancer, but the exact mechanism for how it changes the cells remains unknown. Research into its causes continues.
Doctors stage stomach cancer by how far it has progressed and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. It is most curable during its earliest stages.
How stomach cancer is treated depends on its stage at the time of diagnosis, and whether the treatment is aimed at a cure or helping the patient remain comfortable.
The most common way it is treated is with surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, called tumor debulking. Depending on the extent of the cancer, the cancerous area and a section of the surrounding healthy tissue may be removed, along with some lymph nodes. In later stages, part of or all the stomach may need to be taken out. If the entire stomach is removed, a small bit of the small intestine is formed into a pouch and connected to the esophagus.
Adjuvant therapies such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two may be used before and after surgery. The purpose of these treatments is to shrink the tumor, if applied before surgery, and to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body after surgery. Common side effects of these treatments include:
According to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), the five-year survival rate for stomach cancer is 68 percent if it is caught early. The five-year survival rate drops to just 31.5 percent for all stages and is only 5.3 percent at the latest stage.
Stomach cancer is not common in the United States, but because it is usually not caught until it has become advanced, survival rates remain low. If you notice persistent heartburn, indigestion, or other stomach complaints, see your doctor as soon as possible.