What are the early warning signs of stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer, in its early stages, rarely shows any warning signs or symptoms. Due to its gradual and seemingly silent progress, stomach cancer is usually hard to detect in its early stages. Because of the late appearance of the symptoms, just 20% of the stomach cancers in the United States are found at an early stage before the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
The signs and symptoms of stomach cancer include
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- Abdominal or belly pain
- A sensation of vague discomfort in the belly, usually above the navel
- Change in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling of fullness, typically in the upper abdomen, after eating a small meal
- Indigestion or acid reflux (heartburn)
- Vomiting, with or without blood
- Swelling or fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Blood in the stool
- Pallor because of anemia (low red blood cell count)
Most of these symptoms are usually caused by a stomach virus or ulcer (peptic ulcer) rather than cancer. If symptoms such as heartburn or changes in bowel habits do not get better or become worse, seek medical help.
What are the risk factors for stomach cancer?
Studies have suggested the existence of several risk factors for stomach cancer. A person, however, may not develop the disease despite the presence of risk factors. Additionally, some people may not have any risks or few risks, yet they can get stomach cancer.
The risk factors for stomach cancer are as follows
- Gender: Men are at a higher risk of stomach cancer than women.
- Age: The rate of stomach cancer is high in people over the age of 50. Most patients with stomach cancer are diagnosed between their late 60s and 80s.
- Ethnicity: Stomach cancer in the United States is more common in Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders than in non-Hispanic whites.
- Helicobacter pylori infection: The bacteria Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori is one of the major risk factors for stomach cancer. H. pylori infection is usually associated with cancer in the lower or distal part of the stomach.
- Diet: A diet rich in smoked foods, salted fish and meat and pickled vegetables increases the risk of stomach cancer. Cured meats are rich in cancer-causing substances such as nitrates and nitrites. Certain bacteria, such as H. pylori, can change these substances into compounds that have been shown to cause stomach cancer in lab animals. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of stomach cancer.
- Tobacco use: Smoking can increase the risk of stomach cancer by around two times.
- Family history: People who have a family history of stomach cancer are at higher risk. A history of stomach cancer in first-degree relatives (parents, siblings or children) may increase the risk of stomach cancer in a person.
- Stomach lymphoma: People with mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma have an increased risk of stomach cancer.
- Being overweight or obese: Excess weight may increase the risk of stomach cancer, especially in the cardia (upper part) of the stomach.
- Previous stomach surgery: Previous surgeries for reasons such as stomach ulcers may increase the risk of stomach cancer. It might be due to less acid production that causes the nitrite-producing bacteria to multiply in the stomach. Bile reflux into the stomach after surgery may also contribute to stomach cancer.
- Pernicious anemia: This is a type of anemia due to the failure of the stomach to make intrinsic factor that is needed for vitamin B12 absorption. Pernicious anemia can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Type A blood group: People with type A blood are at a high risk of stomach cancer.
- Lynch syndrome: This is a genetic disorder that increases the risk of certain cancers including stomach cancer.
- Certain occupations: People who work in coal, metal and rubber industries may have a high risk of stomach cancer.
Is stomach cancer curable?
The prognosis of stomach cancer mainly depends on the patient’s general health and stage of the disease. Stomach cancer is often detected in later stages when the disease has spread to other parts of the body. In the advanced stage, the cancer can be treated but not cured. When detected in its initial stages, there are higher chances of recovery from stomach cancer.
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