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The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says each year approximately 24,000 Americans will learn they have stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer. The condition is a threat to life if left untreated and allowed to spread. (Read about "Cancer: What It Is") The number of stomach cancer cases is dropping in the United States. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that it is only one fourth as common as it was in 1930. The reasons are unknown but ACS says it's suspected that the increase in refrigeration of foods and the corresponding reduction in salted and smoked foods in the American diet could be a factor.
The stomach is located in the upper abdomen and is part of the digestive system. (Read about "Digestive System") The upper part of the stomach connects to the esophagus, the lower part leads to the small intestine. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and start growing uncontrollably, dividing randomly and without order. These unneeded cells can accumulate and form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. They are usually removed and often do not come back. Malignant tumors are cancer and can pose a threat to life. Gastric cancer can develop in any part of the stomach. From there it can spread to lymph nodes and other organs such as the liver, pancreas, gallbladder and colon and throughout the body. (Read about "Liver Cancer" "Pancreatic Cancer" "Colorectal Cancer") The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
ACS says stomach cancer can be difficult to detect. Patients in the early stages of gastric cancer may not have obvious symptoms. But there are things to look out for, according to ACS:
These may also be symptoms of less serious problems such as a stomach virus or an ulcer. (Read about "Microorganisms" "Peptic Ulcers") If you have any of these symptoms see your doctor. The earlier the cancer is discovered the better the chances of successful treatment.
ACS says early diagnosis is vital to treating stomach cancer. Your doctor has several types of tests he can do to determine if you have stomach cancer. They include a test to check for hidden blood in the stool; x-rays that can be taken of the esophagus and stomach; or your doctor may order an endoscopy. (Read about "X-rays" "Endoscopy") This examination uses a thin, lighted tube called a gastroscope. It is passed through the mouth allowing your doctor to look directly into your stomach. Samples of tissue may also be removed for biopsy or further examination. (Read about "Biopsy")
Treatment can depend on the size and extent of the tumors, and the patient's general health. (Read about "Cancer Treatments") NCI lists several options for those diagnosed with stomach cancer. They include:
NCI says stomach cancer occurs most often in people over 50 and twice as many men as women develop it. Family history (Read about "Family Health History") may also play a role. Infection with Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori bacteria (Read about "Microorganisms") is a major risk factor for stomach cancer, according to NCI. These bacteria are also responsible for most stomach ulcers and upper small intestine ulcers. (Read about "Peptic Ulcers") ACS also calls alcohol consumption a suspected cause, particularly of cancers to the upper portion of the stomach. (Read about "Alcoholism") Some other risk factors according to ACS:
To lower your risk of developing gastric cancer, ACS recommends you avoid a diet containing large amounts of smoked, pickled or preserved foods and instead choose most foods from plant sources. This includes fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, pasta, rice and beans.
More Cancer Information:
For a list of individual types of cancer, see Cancer: What It Is
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