Stomach cancer is cancer that occurs in the stomach – the muscular sac located in the upper middle of the abdomen, just below the ribs. Another term for stomach cancer is gastric cancer. These two terms most often refer to stomach cancer that begins in the mucus-producing cells on the inside lining of the stomach (adenocarcinoma). Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of stomach cancer.
Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. The build-up of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth, polyp, or tumour. Tumours in the stomach can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumours are not as harmful as malignant ones.
Stomach cancer usually begins in cells in the inner layer of the stomach. Over time, the cancer may invade more deeply into the stomach wall. A stomach tumour can grow through the gastric outer layer into nearby organs, such as the liver, pancreas, oesophagus, or intestine.
Stomach cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumour. They enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into all the tissues of the body. The cancer cells may be found in lymph nodes near the stomach. The cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumours that may damage those tissues. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
Early stomach cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:
discomfort or pain in the stomach area;
difficulties in swallowing;
nausea and vomiting;
feeling of fullness or bloating after a small meal;
vomiting blood or having blood in the stool.
If a patient has symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, the doctor will check to see whether they are due to cancer or to some other cause. The doctor may refer him to a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose specialty is diagnosing and treating of digestive problems. The patient may have blood or other labouratory tests. He also may have physical exam, endoscopy, biopsy, X-ray, CT scan, endoscopic ultrasound, laparoscopy.
The choice of treatment depends mainly on the size and location of the tumour, the stage of disease, and one’s general health. Treatment for stomach cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. The patient will probably receive more than one type of treatment. For example, chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery. It’s often given at the same time as radiation therapy. The type of surgery for stomach cancer depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole stomach or only the part that has the cancer. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given before or after surgery. After surgery, radiation therapy may be given along with chemotherapy. The drugs that treat stomach cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous).
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the part of the body that is treated. The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks.
Nutrition is an important part of treatment for stomach cancer. The patient needs the right amount of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals to maintain his strength and to heal. After stomach surgery, he may need to take daily supplements of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, calcium, and iron. The patient may also need vitamin B12 shots.