Stomach cancer also known as Gastric cancer is not common, it begins when abnormal cells starts developing in the inner lining of the stomach. These cells can grow into a tumour and usually develops over many years.

Causes of Stomach Cancer

Although the exact cause of stomach cancer is unknown, research has shown that there are a few factors which increase the risks and make cancer more likely;

• infection with a common bacterium, H. pylori, which causes ulcers,

• gut inflammation called gastritis,

• a certain type of long-lasting anaemia called pernicious anaemia,

• growths in the stomach called polyps

• Genetic predisposition or family history

• Lifestyle – smoking, obesity, poor diet

• Environmental exposure like asbestos, industrial fumes.

• Over 50 years

Common Symptoms

In general, some persistent early symptoms of stomach cancer include the following; see a doctor where these become recurrent.

• Indigestion

• Feeling bloated after eating

• Heartburn

• Nausea

• Loss of appetite

As the tumour grows, the symptoms become more severe and may include;

• Vomiting

• Difficulty swallowing

• Stomach pain

• Unintentional weight loss

• Blood in stool

• Constipation (or sometimes diarrhoea)

• Swollen stomach

• Feeling tired and have little energy

Please note that having occasional indigestion or heartburn after a meal doesn’t mean you have cancer. However, if you experience these symptoms persist over a long period, you should talk to your doctor. They should carry out a thorough assessment and if you have some risk factors, should schedule you for various tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Stomach Cancer is best managed when detected early. In order for doctors to determine the best treatment, they first need to discover where in the stomach the abnormal growth is located and would usually need to take a sequence of actions.

Process of Diagnosis

Diagnosing stomach cancer usually starts with taking a medical history plus risk assessment and a physical examination. Some diagnostic tests required may include:

• Computerized Tomography Scan (CT scan) – A powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of the inside of your body.

• Biopsy – Your doctor takes a small piece of tissue from your stomach to look at under a microscope for signs of cancer cells.

• Upper Endoscopy – A camera insulated with a flexible tube or wire passed through the throat into the stomach.

• Upper Gastrointestinal series test – Here, you’ll drink a chalky fluid with a substance called barium. The fluid coats your stomach and makes it show up more clearly on X-rays.

• Blood tests to look for signs of cancer

Stages of the Cancer & Treatment

There are various treatments for stomach cancer, your doctor will determine which is the most appropriate depending on how long the tumour has been present or whether it has spread to other parts of your body called ‘Metastases’ and the ‘stage’ the cancer is in.

Treatment is usually with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and alternative medicine.The following are the stages of growth of stomach:

Stage 0. Here, unhealthy cells start lining up on your stomach, but this is usually taken care of with surgery. Your doctor may cut off affected areas, as well as nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 1. Here, a tumour is spotted in your stomach’s lining, which may have spread into the lymph nodes. You’ll likely have surgery also to remove part or all affected areas and nearby lymph nodes. Depending on severity, you may also require chemotherapy or chemo-radiation which can be given before surgery to shrink tumours and kill remnant unhealthy cells.

Stage 2. Here, there is a spread of cancer cells in to deeper layers of the stomach and sometimes nearby lymph nodes. You may also get chemotherapy or chemoradiation which can be given before surgery to shrink tumours and kill remnant unhealthy cells and you might get one of them post-surgery.

Stage 3. Here, cancer cells may now be in all layers of the stomach, as well as metastasized to neighbouring organ such as the colon. You would undergo surgery which may require removal of the entire stomach. Chemo or chemo-radiation comes in handy also and may sometimes take care of it.

Stage 4. Here, cancer cells spread farther than previous stage affecting organs like the liver, colon, lungs, or intestines. Because of the spread, it becomes more difficult to treat, but your doctor can help manage it and give you some relief from symptoms.

How to Prevent & Reduce the Risk of Stomach Cancer

1. See your doctor early where any of the above symptoms are persistent and recurring.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.

3. Have a healthy diet incorporating the food groups in the right proportions – Fruits and vegetables are high in fibre and antioxidants that can lower cancer risk and limit intake of salty, smoked or pickled foods.

4. Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to secondary smoke.

5. Develop the habit of having routine medical check-ups after the age of 35, even when you do not feel unwell.

Be conversant with your body and digestive system so you can quickly identify abnormal or unusual patterns and report to your doctor as soon as possible.

At Wazima health, our local and global GPs, Specialists and hospitals are on-hand to help whichever stage you are; general check-up, consultation, diagnosis or treatment and aftercare – www.wazima.health

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