Stomach cancer is a disease in which normal cells in the stomach
tissues become cancerous and grow out of control.
Experts have been unable to define one primary cause for stomach
cancer, but many factors seem to be involved. Some research suggests
that stomach ulcers or stomach polyps can lead to cancer.
• Stomach ulcers are raw
or inflamed areas of the stomach lining and also are called gastric
• Stomach polyps are noncancerous
round growths that project into the stomach cavity
Environmental factors or infection by the bacteria Helicobacter
pylori may be possible causes. Poor diet has also been implicated.
The symptoms of stomach cancer in the early stages can be vague
and include indigestion, discomfort, nausea, or heartburn. Early
symptoms are also symptomatic of many other gastrointestinal conditions
(pertaining to the digestive tract), so having symptoms does not
necessarily mean stomach cancer.
Treatment varies by individual, but may include surgery, chemotherapy,
radiation, biological therapy, or participation in clinical trials.
Facts About Stomach Cancer
• Stomach cancer rarely
affects people under age 40 and is most often found in those over
the age of 55.
• Stomach cancer causes
about 15,000 deaths per year in the United States.
• Stomach cancer is the
seventh most common cause of death from cancer in the United States.
• Cancer is the second most
common cause of death in the US. (The first is heart disease).
• There has been a dramatic
decrease in the worldwide incidence of stomach cancer over the past
About The Stomach
The main function of the stomach is to complete the breakdown of
food that begins in the mouth, preparing food to be absorbed into
the body. It is also a storage organ enabling food to be eaten several
times each day rather than more often.
The stomach is a hollow, J-shaped
organ on the left side of the abdomen under the diaphragm (the muscle
below the lungs that separates the chest from the abdomen). After
it is eaten, food travels from the mouth to the stomach through
a tube called the esophagus .
In the stomach the process of breaking down food is completed before
nutrients from food enter the duodenum (the first portion of the
small intestine, attached to the stomach), small intestine and large
intestine (colon). Nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream in
the duodenum and intestines.
The stomach is flexible, allowing it to expand when food is eaten.
The average capacity of the stomach in an adult is about 3 pints
The stomach wall contains layers of muscle lined by cells that secrete
gastric juice, or gastric acid. This substance contains:
• Pepsin, an enzyme that
breaks down protein.
• Hydrochloric acid, an
acid that kills bacteria, and which creates the most suitable environment
• Intrinsic factor, which
is essential for vitamin B12 absorption .
The stomach lining also contains glands that secrete mucus, which
provides a barrier to prevent the stomach from digesting itself.
Stomach cancer can be hard to
find early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages and,
in many cases, the cancer has spread before it is found. When symptoms
do occur, they are often so vague that the person ignores them.
Stomach cancer can cause:
Indigestion or a burning sensation (heartburn);
Discomfort or pain in the abdomen;
Nausea and vomiting;
Diarrhea or constipation;
Bloating of the stomach after meals;
Loss of appetite;
Weakness and fatigue; and
Bleeding (vomiting blood or having blood in the stool).
Any of these symptoms can be caused by cancer or by other, less
serious health problems, such as a stomach virus or an ulcer. People
who have any of these symptoms should see their doctor. They may
be referred to a gastroenterologist (GI), a doctor who specializes
in diagnosing and treating digestive problems.