What is stomach cancer?
The stomach is an organ that is connected to the oesophagus at its top and the small intestine at its other end. Its main function is to break down solid food. This makes it easier for the digestive system to absorb nutrients from the food.
Stomach cancer, commonly known as gastric cancer, usually begins in the cells of the lining in the upper part of the stomach. The cells can grow to form a tumour, as in most other cancers.
Around 95 per cent of cancers of the stomach are adenocarcinomas. These cancers develop from the cells that make up the innermost lining of the stomach.
What causes stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is caused by a mutation in DNA and cells of your stomach. Certain factors increase your risk of stomach cancer. This includes genetic predisposition, being male and above 55 years old, smoking, a diet high in salt and smoked meats, having undergone stomach surgery and having a H. pylori infection.
How do I know if I have stomach cancer?
Unfortunately, there are few symptoms in the early stages of stomach cancer which makes it hard to diagnose without doing procedures such as endoscopy. In later stages, symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Persistent heartburn and indigestion
- Feeling of bloatedness after a meal
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Unintentional weight loss
Your doctor will perform a physical examination. After this, you may be scheduled for a gastroscopy, biopsy and/or diagnostic imaging tests such as an upper GI series test, CT scan, PET scan or MRI.
Gastroscopy works by letting the doctor see the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and top part of the small intestine. During this procedure, biopsies which are tissue samples, are taken and sent to the lab to check if there is cancer.
Diagnostic imaging tests make use of X-rays to show the stomach fairly clearly. These can frequently confirm the location and extent of the cancer.
Blood tests can show signs of stomach cancer.