The ABC of stomach cancer

The ABC of stomach cancer

What is stomach cancer and how do we treat it?

Common symptoms of stomach cancer include poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, indigestion and nausea.

What is stomach cancer? Is there any cure for it?

When cells begin to multiply uncontrollably in the inner lining of the stomach, they eventually grow into a tumour, resulting in stomach cancer. Commonly reported signs and symptoms of stomach cancer include poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, build-up of fluid in the stomach, heartburn, indigestion, nausea and vomiting (with or without blood). Some patients also observe blood in the stool. These observations are, however, not specific to stomach cancer and could also be the result of a stomach ulcer or infection. So, patients who experience the symptoms mentioned above must consult a qualified doctor at the earliest to diagnose the problem. The triad of anaemia, anorexia and abdominal pain in the elderly could also indicate a possible case of stomach cancer and should be investigated further. 

An upper GI endoscopy along with a microscopic examination of stomach tissue is used to diagnose and confirm the presence of stomach cancer. The next step is to determine at what stage the cancer is, which is found from an endoscopic ultrasound, or imaging tests such as X-rays, CT, PET or MRI scan. 

Depending on the stage of stomach cancer, your doctor will help you choose the most suitable treatment from a range of options such as surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy. When detected in its early stages (stage 0 and I), the cancer is limited to the inner lining of the stomach and can be fully treated by surgery alone. Advanced stages of stomach cancer usually require a combination of different modalities of treatments. 

It is important to understand that both stomach cancer and its treatment, particularly stomach surgery, affect a person’s eating habits and dietary preferences. To ensure that you meet your nutritional requirements, master the art of portion control.

Your oncologist and nutritionist will also recommend changes in your diet, such as eating six to eight smaller meals that are easier to digest. Some patients are also recommended nutritional supplements (vitamin B12, iron, folate or calcium) if their stomach is unable to absorb these from food.

Patients diagnosed in the early stages have a much higher survival rate as compared to the ones suffering from late-stage stomach cancer. In addition, the availability of many new chemotherapeutic drugs and targeted treatments for this disease has enabled most patients, even with an advanced stomach cancer, to lead a good quality of life.

Stomach cancer, and in fact, most cancers, are the result of a combination of environmental factors and genetic predisposition. These environmental factors include smoking, tobacco use and heavy drinking. Avoiding these factors can reduce the risk of stomach cancer.