The stomach is part of the body’s digestive system. It produces acids and enzymes that break down food before passing it to the small intestine. Cancer can develop in any part of the stomach and spread up towards the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) or down into the small intestine or to adjacent organs like the gallbladder, bile duct and pancreas.
There are four layers of tissue composing the wall of the stomach. The innermost layer is called the mucosa and is where approximately 90% to 95% of stomach cancer begins. This type of tumor is called Adenocarcinoma.
Less common stomach cancers include:
- Lymphoma — a cancer of the immune system; sometimes found in the stomach wall
- Gastric stomal tumors — tumors of the stomach wall
- Carcinoid tumors — tumors of the hormone-producing cells of the stomach
Stomach cancer staging is as follows:
Stage 0 — early cancer hasn’t grown into deeper layers of the stomach.
Stage I — cancer has grown into the stomach wall’s inner layers or the outer muscle layers. It may have also spread to lymph nodes.
Stage II — the tumor has grown into deeper layers of the stomach wall. Cancer has spread to some lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
Stage III — the tumor is larger, growing through layers of the stomach and into connective tissue outside the stomach. Cancer has spread to some lymph nodes but hasn’t spread beyond the stomach.
Stage IV — cancer has spread to other organs beyond the stomach.
Symptoms of earlier-stage gastric cancers are usually vague and may include minor stomach aches and indigestion. Other warning signs include:
- Dark stools
- Difficulty swallowing, which becomes worse over time
- Excessive burping
- A general decline in health
- Loss of appetite or feeling full early after starting to eat
- Vomiting blood
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
As with most cancers, researchers don’t know yet what causes stomach cancer. Several risk factors have been identified, however.
Risk Factors – Factors that contribute to an increased risk for cancer of the stomach include:
- Age 50 and older
- Smoking History / Tobacco chewing
- Having a mother, father, sister, or brother who has had stomach cancer
- A diet high in salted, smoked foods and low in fruits and vegetables
- Eating foods that have not been prepared or stored properly
Stomach cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages because there are typically no symptoms early in the disease. If a doctor suspects stomach cancer, a thorough patient history will first be done. This includes asking about your lifestyles, such as tobacco or alcohol use, and whether you have a family history of stomach cancer. A physical exam may follow, along with some of the following tests:
- Blood chemistry studies
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Fecal occult blood test
- Upper Endoscopy (esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD)
- CT scan (CAT scan)
- Staging – PET CT is done to stage the disease
Usually, a diagnosis is made when the cancer is more advanced. Because it can take some time to identify stomach cancer, only about 10% of people are diagnosed while it’s still in the early stages.
Treatments for stomach cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
- A combination of the above treatments
The choice of treatment depends on whether the cancer is just in the stomach or if it has spread to other places in the body. Your age and overall health will also affect the choice of treatment.
If you experience any stomach cancer symptoms or are concerned about your risk factors, visit expert Gastroenterologists/Gastrosurgeons at Regency Healthcare. We offer diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of stomach cancer.