Gastric (Stomach) Cancer

Gastric Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Risk Factors

All of you might have experienced one or the other kind of issues with your stomach. It could be stomach pain or nasty nausea or even difficulty with your bowel movements. Your doctor might have diagnosed it as an ulcer or just gas formation. But that might not always be the case. 

There is a hidden culprit that could make your life worse. Stomach cancer or gastric cancer is one of those conditions which is very difficult to get diagnosed at a safe and early stage when it has better chances of management. 

What is Gastric (Stomach) Cancer? 

Our digestive tract consists of a long tube extending from the mouth to the anus. The stomach is one of the organs in our digestive tract or our gastrointestinal tract. It is in the stomach that the food that we eat gets digested properly. Stomach cancer is characterized when the cells of the lining of our stomach get cancerous i.e., start multiplying abnormally. Sometimes the junction of the food pipe also called the esophagus, and the stomach gets affected. 

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is the fifth most frequently diagnosed cancer in the whole world. Gastric cancer is also the third most leading cause of death among cancers. Stomach cancer is difficult to diagnose at an early stage and hence it is important to understand its symptoms. Let us see what causes stomach cancer. 

What Causes Stomach Cancer? 

There is a cause for everything that happens in our bodies. Be it keeping it healthy or getting sick. But when it comes to stomach cancer it is difficult to pinpoint just a few causes. 

The Causes of Stomach Cancer are Multifactorial. 

  • Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that is also responsible for stomach ulcers, is the most common causative agent of gastric cancers.  
  • Gastritis or the inflammation of the stomach for a long time and when left untreated is also an important reason why you can get stomach cancer. The genetic level change in the cells lining the stomach is also a common cause of gastric cancer. Environmental and other behavioral factors also add to it. 
  • Obesity, as we all know, is the first step to many lifestyle disorders like cancer. The overconsumption of red meat is also considered a factor that triggers gastric cancer. 
  • We all know the impact of alcohol and smoking in causing cancer. Stomach cancer is not exempted from this. So, if you are a smoker and consume too much alcohol, beware of this monster in your tummy. 

When to See a Doctor? 

The symptoms of stomach cancer can start as simple indigestion or stomach pain. Bloating is also one of the earlier symptoms. Sometimes you might find a palpable mass in your abdomen too. Sometimes gastric cancer can also occur without showing any symptoms or signs.  It is exceedingly difficult to identify the early symptoms of gastric cancer. As the disease progresses, one might experience lasting pain in the stomach, aversion to food, or even unexplained weight loss. There could also be ascites (which is the accumulation of fluid in your abdominal area) or liver enlargement or even jaundice. Sometimes the tumors can be ulcerated and can make you vomit blood. As the symptoms are not specific, the diagnosis can be delayed which makes it one of the most dangerous killers among cancers. The best thing you can do is to have routine check-ups with your gastroenterologist. 

Are There Different Types of Gastric Cancer? 

There are different types of classifications of gastric cancers. 

Conventional gastric cancer occurs in older people, mostly over the age of 45. Usually, patients get diagnosed between the ages of sixty and eighty. This type of gastric cancer is mostly due to environmental factors and most men are affected more than women. 

Early-onset gastric cancer (EOGC) is described as gastric cancer that occurs at the age of 45 years or younger. As young patients are less exposed to environmental carcinogens, this type of cancer is mostly due to genetic factors. It is mostly seen in women.  

Gastric stump cancer (GSC) is another type of gastric cancer, which is caused due to chronic inflammation of the stomach. This could be due to recurrent untreated acid reflux syndromes or stomach ulcers. Other causes like bacterial overgrowth in the region is also a reason for this type of stomach cancer. 

Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC) is also a type of gastric cancer that is hereditary and is usually diagnosed before the age of 50 years. 

Stomach cancer is also classified based on the type of lesions it forms, the area it affects as well as based the structure of the cells formed. 

What Puts You at Risk? 

Genetics is the major risk factor when it comes to stomach cancer. Inherited mutations of certain cancers can also put you at a higher risk of developing gastric cancer. The main risk factor for gastric cancer is the bacterium H. pylori. The inflammation brought out by this bacterium is seen in many gastric cancers.  H. pylori infection increases the risk of gastric cancer.  

Acid reflux also called GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is also associated with gastric cancer and is a major risk factor.  

 A meta-analysis of 42 studies estimated that in smokers the risk of gastric cancer was increased approximately 1.53-fold and was higher in men than in women. A recent study has also shown that using hookah and opium are risk factors for gastric cancer. 

Alcohol use has been shown to increase the risk of gastric cancer as it is known to irritate and erode the stomach lining, resulting in gastritis, a precursor for stomach cancer. 

Exposure to dust, high-temperature particulates, and metals such as chromium VI are also risk factors of stomach cancer. Occupations, as varied as wood processing, food machine operation, rubber manufacturing, coal mining, and metal processing, have been found to carry a greater risk of cancer. 

Asbestos exposure, occupational talc exposure as well as silica exposure have all been proven by studies to increase the risk for Gastric cancer. 

This is not it. Even the food that you eat is responsible. The excessive amount of salt in the food and overuse of preserved meat rich in N-nitroso compounds can also lead to the inflammation of the stomach walls leading to cancer.  

Obesity may also induce inflammation of the stomach lining which leads to an increased risk for stomach cancer. 

If you have undergone gastric surgery, the chances of you getting stomach cancer are also increased. Along with all this, the ionizing radiation from CT scans, X-rays, and other radioactive sources can cause stomach cancer. 

Stomach cancer is seen lower in women than in men. This is due to the protective action of estrogen (the female hormone). The incidence of stomach cancer has also decreased noticeably in the past few decades. The possible explanations being, better lifestyle and diets, understanding the need for the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and improved living standards. 

Prevention of stomach cancer is thus in our control as long as the genetic factors are not too strong. 

So let us eat healthily and take care of our gut to keep cancer at bay.


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