stomach cancer

Stomach Cancer or Gastric Cancer – Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Majority of stomach cancer or gastric cancer start in the glandular tissue that lines the stomach. Stomach is a muscular sac which lies between the esophagus and small intestine.

The stomach is lined by three layers of powerful muscles that grind food and mix it with gastric juices, liquefying it before passing it into the small intestine. One of the most important juices is hydrochloric acid; it is very strong.

The stomach’s delicate tissues are protected from this powerful acid by a thick coating on the stomach lining. Stomach cancer is also called Gastric Cancer. This type of cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the lining and wall of the stomach. In this type of cancer the stomach cells become malignant or cancerous and grow out of control, forming a tumor.

The tumor may spread along the stomach wall or may grow directly through the wall and shed cells into the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Most common feature of cancer cells is they can spread to other organs.

Stomach cancers are classified broadly into three types according to the type of tissue where they originate. Adenocarcinomas, is the most common type which starts in the glandular stomach lining. Second type is lymphomas, which involve the lymphatic system, and third type being sarcomas, which involve the connective tissue (muscle, fat, or blood vessels).

Stomach Cancer Symptoms or Stomach Cancer Signs

Sometimes cancer can grow in the stomach for a long time before it causes symptoms. Early-stage of stomach cancer or gastric cancer rarely causes symptoms. This is one of the reasons why stomach cancer is so difficult to detect early. The earlier gastric cancer is found, the better the chances are that it can be cured.

In the early stages, the gastric cancer or stomach cancer symptoms or stomach cancer signs include:

  • Indigestion and stomach discomfort or heartburn
  • A bloated feeling after eating
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired or weakness

When the cancer is larger, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • Blood in stool
  • A bloated feeling after eating
  • Nausea and Vomiting with or without blood
  • Unexplained or unintended weight loss
  • Stomach pain or abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Discomfort in the abdomen, usually above the navel
  • A sense of fullness in the upper abdomen, just below the chest bone after eating a small meal.
  • Heartburn, indigestion, or ulcer-type symptoms
  • Swelling of the abdomen due to accumulation of fluid and cancer cells.
  • Tiredness , weakness and fatigue

Some of these symptoms can occur with non-cancerous conditions, such as a stomach virus, or with other types of cancer. However, Doctor’s consultation is a must for people who have any of these problems for an appropriate evaluation and diagnosis. As the symptoms of stomach cancer often do not appear until the disease is advanced, only very low percent of stomach cancer cases in the early stages, before they have spread to other areas of the body.

Stomach cancer or gastric cancer begins in the mucosa, the innermost layer. As like most cancers, stomach cancer grow slowly over many years. If left untreated the cancer can grow deeper and infect the other layers. The deeper it goes the chances of a cure minimizes. It is very hard to detect stomach cancer during the early stages, because the symptoms often come and go unnoticed. As cancer progress changes begin to occur in the lining.

Stomach cancer can be very difficult to diagnose because in the early stages, the symptoms can be absent or very mild. The symptoms listed above can be caused by cancer, but also by other, less serious health problems such as a virus or an ulcer.

In more advanced stages of stomach cancer or gastric cancer, symptoms can include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Moderate to severe pain in the stomach

Stomach Cancer Treatment

Stomach cancer treatment or gastric cancer treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or a combination of these 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.

A person’s age and overall health will also affect the choice of treatment. Treatment options include the following:

Surgery

The most common treatment for stomach cancer is surgery. Depending on the extent of the cancer, a part (subtotal, or partial, gastrectomy) or all (total gastrectomy) of the stomach as well as some of the surrounding tissue may be removed. Lymph nodes near the tumor also are often removed during surgery.

After a subtotal gastrectomy, the remaining part of the stomach is connected to the esophagus and the small intestine. If the entire stomach is removed, then the surgeon attaches the esophagus directly to the small intestine.

If stomach cancer or gastric cancer is caught at an early stage, and the entire tumor is removed, a complete recovery is possible.

But unfortunately, diagnosis usually doesn’t occur until stomach cancer has spread through the stomach wall to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.

At this point, it’s not possible to remove all the cancer surgically, but still an operation may be recommended to alleviate pain, intractable bleeding or obstruction.

In some cases of advanced stomach cancer, a laser beam directed through an endoscope can vaporize most of the tumor and relieve obstruction without an operation.

After gastrectomy, some people experience leakage or obstruction where the intestinal tract has been reconstructed.

Most of the common problems associated with partial or total gastrectomy include diarrhea, vomiting and dumping syndrome, which occurs when the small intestine fills too quickly with undigested food.

Symptoms of dumping may occur immediately after eating (early dumping) or two to three hours after a meal (late dumping) and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, weakness, sweating and dizziness.

Radiation Therapy

Some types of ionizing radiation have more energy than others. The higher the energy, the more deeply the radiation can penetrate into the tissues. The way a certain type of radiation behaves is important in planning radiation treatments.

The radiation oncologist selects the type and energy of radiation that is most suitable for each patient’s cancer.

The common types of radiation used for cancer treatment are high-energy photons, protons and neutrons.

Radiation is considered a local treatment because only cells in the area being treated are affected. It is not as useful against cancer that has already spread to distant parts of the body, because most forms of radiation therapy do not reach all parts of the body. Radiation may be used in several ways:

  • To cure or shrink early stage cancer
  • To stop cancer from recurring in another area
  • To treat symptoms for advanced cancer

Chemotherapy

The treatment uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. The drug is injected into a vein through a needle or taken orally as a pill, this medications travel through the bloodstream and are often used to eliminate cancer cells that may remain after surgery or to treat cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy may also be used to control cancer growth, prolong life or relieve symptoms of advanced disease. Although it sometimes may be the only treatment needed, doctors most often use chemotherapy in conjunction with other therapies.

For example, in locally advanced stomach cancer, which occurs when the tumor affects only the stomach and nearby tissues, chemotherapy and radiation (radiotherapy) may be offered after surgery to help increase survival and improve quality of life. Chemotherapy might be given once a day, once a week, or even once a month, depending on the type of cancer.

For some people, chemotherapy is the only treatment used in an attempt to cure, control, or palliate their cancer. In other cases, chemotherapy may be given along with other treatments. It may be used as neoadjuvant therapy (before surgery or radiation), or as adjuvant therapy (after surgery or radiation).

Stomach Cancer Prognosis

The Stomach cancer ‘prognosis’ usually refers to the likely outcome of Stomach cancer. The prognosis of Stomach cancer may include the duration of Stomach cancer, chances of complications of Stomach cancer, probable outcomes, prospects for recovery, recovery period for Stomach cancer, survival rates, death rates, and other outcome possibilities in the overall prognosis of Stomach cancer. Naturally, such forecast issues are by their nature unpredictable.

Usually a thorough medical history and physical examination by the doctor is done to diagnose Stomach Cancer or gastric cancer.

If the history and/or examination indicate, the doctor will proceed to laboratory blood tests and one or all of the following examinations:

Fecal occult blood test, Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series or barium swallow and Endoscopy. Through endoscopy the doctor can see directly into the stomach. If an abnormal area is seen, a sample of tissue can be removed from the suspicious area through the endoscope.

This procedure is called a biopsy and is used to determine the presence or absence of cancer cells in the suspect tissue.

Stomach Cancer Survival Rate

In Stomach cancer survival rate or Gastric cancer survival rate will depend on the

  • Stomach cancer  exact type
  • Stage of stomach cancer
  • Grade of stomach cancer

As discussed earlier there are different types of stomach cancer. Most stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas. This type of cancer arises from the glandular tissue lining the stomach. There are other less common types such as lymphoma of the stomach.

The stage of a cancer is the size of the tumor and whether it has spread. A stage one cancer is the earliest and will have a better outlook than a more advanced cancer.

The grade of the cancer depends on the appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope. The more like normal cells the cancer cells look, the lower the grade. The more abnormal the cells appear, the higher the grade. Low grade cancers tend to be less aggressive than high grade cancers.

Overall survival statistics do not reveal much. The overall 5 year survival statistics for stomach cancer or gastric cancer are about 20%. That means approximately 1 in 5 of all those diagnosed with stomach cancer are still be alive for  5 years more from the time of detection.

But the fact that many people have advanced stomach cancer when they are diagnosed hides the analysis. If the stomach cancer or gastric cancer is localized with no cancer in the lymph nodes then 75% live for at least five years and two thirds of these will be cured.