Do you fear a future diagnosis of stomach cancer? If your family has a history of this cancer or other types, how can you reduce your own risk for the disease? Below is some information about stomach cancer and how to help yourself avoid this diagnosis.
Cancer of any kind relates to cells experiencing uncontrolled growth. You can suffer cancer in almost any part of your body, with cancer potentially spreading from one part to another. Stomach cancer starts in your stomach, usually over the course of many years. People with developing cancer of the stomach rarely show any symptoms during early stages of the disease's growth.
Multiple types of cancer affect the stomach. These start in different areas of the digestive organ, causing their own unique symptoms. Where the cancer occurs affects your treatment options and potential outcomes.
Stomach cancer types include:
The most common diagnosis for stomach cancer is adenocarcinoma. More than nine out of every 10 people with cancers of the stomach suffer this type. It affects cells of the mucosa lining of the stomach.
Lymphomas of the stomach start in the wall of the stomach, the location of immune system tissue. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors also occur in cells of the stomach's wall. These tumors can occur anywhere in your digestive tract but usually start in the stomach, with some being benign and others cancerous. Carcinoid tumors of the stomach being in cells that make hormones and usually do not spread to other parts of the body. The rarest forms of stomach cancer include squamous cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma and leiomyosarcoma.
There is no definite way to avoid stomach cancer. But you can reduce your risk by making some lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes include:
Most people with normal risk for stomach cancer can help avoid the disease by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Only a minor percentage of people affected by stomach cancer suffer hereditary forms of the disease, such as hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome or Lynch syndrome.
If your family has a history of cancers of the stomach, you need to talk to your doctor about your risk. The same is true if you suffered invasive lobular breast cancer before age 50. Genetic testing can identify hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome and any abnormal changes affecting the CDH1 gene.
According to the American Cancer Society, some lifestyle changes can improve your risk for stomach cancer. These lifestyle changes also improve your risk of some other forms of the disease, including breast and lung cancers.
In recent decades, researchers have noted a dramatic drop in the number of people affected by stomach cancer. Much of this change is believed to relate to improved dietary habits and physical fitness. Among these improvements are reduced use of salting, smoking and pickling for food preservation and storage.
The American Cancer Society specifically recommends eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, to lower your stomach cancer risk. You need at least 2.5 cups of these fresh foods each day. Your diet should also replace whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas instead of refined grains. The healthiest proteins for avoiding stomach cancer are fish and poultry, in lieu of red meats.
Unproven beliefs about preventing stomach cancer include using dietary supplements and teas to reduce risk. But scientists do not yet agree that green tea or antioxidant supplements actually help improve your chances of a stomach cancer diagnosis.
Obesity and being overweight increase your risk of many types of cancer. These include cancers starting in the stomach. Being physically fit certainly helps you reduce your risk. To achieve fitness and cancer risk benefits, balance your calorie intake with your activity level and eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
Avoiding tobacco is important for preventing many types of cancer. About one third of all American cancer deaths relate to smoking or other tobacco use. Stomach cancer proves no different, with smokers suffering more cancers of the proximal stomach near the esophagus than non-smokers.
People on aspirin regimens or those regularly using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) experience fewer stomach cancers than people who do not use these medications, according to recent studies. At the same time, colon cancer and colon polyps occur less in people using aspirin or NSAIDs. Of course, regular use of these drugs comes with increased risk for internal bleeding and other health problems. So you need to discuss an aspirin regimen or NSAID use with your doctor.
Some people experience chronic infection of their stomach lining with H pylori bacteria. This infection does not always cause clear symptoms. But some studies suggest that using antibiotics despite lack of symptoms can possibly lower your risk for pre-cancerous lesions in your stomach. That is, if you test positive if H pylori infection, in the first place.
If your doctor suspects H pylori infection, one or more tests can help determine your diagnosis. These tests include:
The blood test for H pylori antibodies is the easiest way to test for this stomach infection. An endoscopy procedure takes a sample of your stomach lining for biopsy. Doctors then use chemical tests, view the sample under a microscope or culture the stomach lining sample to see if it grows H pylori bacteria. Finally, a special breath test identifies H pylori-related chemical changes to a liquid solution you drink before breath sampling.
Clearly, your best options for avoiding stomach cancer come down to living a healthy, nutritionally-balanced and fit lifestyle. Because these changes improve your overall cancer risk and even make you feel better as part of daily living, eating well and staying active make great sense. The same is true for quitting smoking.
Everyone faces risk of one type of cancer or another today. But many of the choices we make in our everyday lives help us stay healthier and live much longer than generations before us. Even receiving a cancer diagnosis, whether for stomach cancer or other types of the disease, is not necessarily a death sentence. Major advancements in how we prevent, diagnose, treat and watch for recurrence of the disease help us live well even after a cancer diagnosis.
Because every person is different and your risk for stomach cancer differs from someone else's, talk openly with your doctor about your health concerns. If your family shows signs of hereditary stomach cancer, consider genetic testing to identify your risk or relieve your concerns.