Cancer of the stomach, also referred to as "gastric cancer," often affects the upper part of the stomach, around the area of the esophagus. The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center reports that stomach cancer has been on the decline in America over the last decade and "is curable" if the cancer cells have not spread outside the confines of the mucus lining of the stomach.
Early detection is a key component in the successful treatment of stomach cancer. According to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, stage one stomach cancer is characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the stomach lining, but not in the gastric wall or in the surrounding lymph nodes. Patients who are diagnosed with stage two stomach cancers do have cancer cells growing in the stomach wall, but the cancer has not metastasized outside of the stomach. These two stages of stomach cancer are the most treatable. When cancer cells have spread outside the stomach, the condition has moved to stage three and in stage four, these cells have reached other organs. Stage one and two stomach cancers have a higher rate of cure than stages three and four.
There are some signs that may be precursors for stomach cancer and should be monitored by a physician. Achlorhydria is a condition in which the stomach has less than sufficient amounts of gastric acid. The lack of acid makes the stomach a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, resulting in abnormal amounts. Chronic anemia and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) are also conditions that can lead to stomach cancer. The Penn State Cancer Institute indicates that a patient may be at risk of stomach cancer if polyps are present. It is common for benign polyps to grow in the lining of the stomach but they can turn malignant. Close monitoring of these conditions can help increase the chances of detecting stomach cancer early so it can be cured.
Stomach Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms are not always present in the early stages of stomach cancer, making the condition difficult to diagnose. And symptoms that are present are sometimes mistaken as signs of other illnesses. Fatigue, bloating and a feeling of fullness even when only small amounts of food are eaten can be symptomatic of stomach cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Heartburn, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and weight loss are other indicators that stomach cancer may be present. If any of these symptoms become manifest, it is best to have them evaluated at their onset. If they are related to stomach cancer, the earlier the malignant cells are discovered, the better the chances for cure.
The diagnosis of stomach cancer is achieved using a combination of tests. Risk factors and symptoms are taken into consideration, as well as a physical examination. The American Cancer Society explains that an endoscopy is the most common test utilized to diagnose stomach cancer. During an endoscopy a small camera that is attached to a thin tube is placed down the patient's throat, giving a bird's-eye view of the esophagus, stomach and intestines. A tissue sample (biopsy) can also be taken during an endoscopy. Imaging tests are also helpful in detecting stomach cancer and consist of X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans. These diagnostic tests increase the chances of detecting cancerous cells in time to cure the malignant stomach condition.
The National Cancer Institute reports that there are four strategies used to combat stomach cancer. Surgery is the most common form of treatment and usually involves the removal of some or all of the stomach. Chemotherapy is also utilized to stop cancer cell growth and destroy the cancer cells that already exist; it is administered through injection or orally. Radiation is the third type of stomach cancer treatment, but it is usually reserved for the later stages of the disease's development. Finally, a treatment known as "chemoradiation" may be used. As the name implies, it utilizes a mixture of radiation and chemotherapy. This form of treatment may be used before or after surgery. The goal of each of these treatments is to break the cycle of cancerous invasion, promote the growth of healthy cells, cure the disease and restore wellness to the patient.