What is gastric and stomach cancer?
Gastric (stomach) cancer forms in the lining of the stomach. In many cases, it develops slowly over several years. Although pre-cancerous changes can be an early warning sign, they typically cause no symptoms until reaching an advanced stage.
Stomach cancer mostly affects people older than 50. According to the American Cancer Society, the number of new stomach cancer cases has decreased 1.5 percent each year for the last 10 years.
What are the different types of stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is different than other cancers that develop in the abdomen, such as colon, pancreas, or liver cancer. Depending on the type, stomach cancer has different symptoms and treatment options. Types of stomach cancer include:
- Adenocarcinoma: About 95 percent of stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas, which develop in cells within the stomach lining. These cells make and release fluids and mucus.
- Carcinoid tumor: This type of gastric cancer forms in cells that make hormones and typically does not metastasize (or spread) to other organs.
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumor: While GISTs form anywhere in the digestive tract, most develop in young cells inside the stomach wall. They can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
- Lymphoma: Sometimes found in the wall of the stomach, lymphomas are cancers of the immune system tissue.
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
Early-stage stomach cancer is difficult to detect. The disease rarely causes symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. Stomach cancer symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, discomfort, or swelling
- Poor appetite
- Feeling full in the upper abdomen after eating a small meal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unintentional weight loss
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Blood in the stool
Signs of stomach cancer can also be signs of a less serious condition, such as a stomach virus or ulcer. If you experience these symptoms, consult with your doctor to determine a cause and treatment plan.
What are the causes and risk factors of stomach cancer?
Scientists don’t yet know what causes stomach cancer. Research is ongoing, including studies considering how pre-cancerous changes affect the stomach lining. Certain conditions may progress to cancer, including:
- Chronic atrophic gastritis: This condition is caused by H pylori infection or an autoimmune reaction where the immune system attacks cells in the stomach. Some people with this condition develop stomach cancer.
- Intestinal metaplasia: Normal stomach lining is replaced with cells that look like the cells lining the intestine. It is not yet known why this change develops into stomach cancer.
There are many risk factors that can contribute to a stomach cancer diagnosis, including:
- Gender (more common in men than women)
- Age (risk increases over 50)
- Ethnicity (more common in Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders)
- H pylori infection
- Stomach lymphoma
- Diets containing large amounts of cured, smoked or processed meats
- Smoking tobacco
- Heavy alcohol use
- Obesity or being overweight
- Stomach surgery
- Pernicious anemia
- Type A blood
- Inherited syndromes, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and hereditary diffuse gastric cancer
- Family history of cancer
- Working in the coal, rubber, or metal industry
How is stomach cancer diagnosed and treated?
If doctors suspect stomach cancer, they will perform a series of tests to confirm a diagnosis. Stomach cancer tests include:
- Physical exam
- Upper endoscopy
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- Imaging tests
- GI series
- CT, CAT scan, or MRI
- Chest x-ray
- A complete blood count (CBC)
The preferred approach to stomach cancer treatment combines two or more of the following methods: surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Gastric and Stomach Cancer Treatment at Baptist Cancer Center
Baptist Cancer Center is dedicated to the research, prevention, and treatment of all forms of gastrointestinal cancer. Led by Dr. Stephen Behrman, the Baptist Cancer Center gastrointestinal program provides patients with a one-stop experience. Most patients receive treatment plans within two days of testing with BCC specialists. Our multidisciplinary team of doctors, surgeons, and radiation and medical oncologists strive to provide personalized, close-to-home care and guidance to patients and their families.