All you need to know about Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a relatively uncommon type of cancer that affects about 7,300 people each year in the UK.
The initial symptoms of stomach cancer are vague and easy to mistake for other less serious conditions. They include:
- persistent indigestion and heartburn
- trapped wind and frequent burping
- feeling very full or bloated after meals
- persistent stomach pain
Symptoms of advanced stomach cancer can include:
- blood in your stools, or black stools
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
As the early symptoms are similar to many conditions, stomach cancer is often advanced by the time it’s diagnosed. Therefore, it’s important to get any possible symptoms of stomach cancer checked out by your GP as soon as possible.
Who is affected
The exact cause of stomach cancer is still unclear, although a number of factors that increase your risk of developing the condition have been identified. These include:
- being aged 55 or older
- being male
- eating a diet that contains a lot of salted and pickled foods
- having an infection in your stomach due to a type of bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
Types of stomach cancer
There are different types of stomach cancer. 95% develop in the cells of the stomach lining and are known as adenocarcinoma of the stomach.
Less common types include lymphoma of the stomach, which develops in the lymphatic tissue (tissue that drains away fluid and helps fight infection) and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), which develop in the muscle or connective tissue of the stomach wall.
How stomach cancer is treated
Many cases of stomach cancer cannot be completely cured, but it is still possible to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life using chemotherapy and, in some cases, radiotherapy and surgery.
Surgery to remove some or all of the stomach is known as a gastrectomy. You will still be able to eat normally after a gastrectomy, but you will probably have to adjust the size of your portions.
Chemotherapy can also be used before surgery to help shrink the tumour and sometimes after surgery to help prevent the cancer from returning.
Living with stomach cancer
Living with stomach cancer and then the effects of surgery can be tough, but there are a range of services that can provide social, psychological and, in some cases, financial support.
The outlook for stomach cancer depends on several things, including your age, general health and how far the cancer has spread before it’s diagnosed. Unfortunately, as stomach cancer is often not picked up until the later stages, the outlook is not as good as for some other cancers.
Overall, around 15% of people with stomach cancer will live at least five years after diagnosis and about 11% will live at least 10 years.
In the UK, around 5,000 people die from stomach cancer each year.
The stomach is a hollow sac of muscle that is connected to the oesophagus (gullet) at its top and the first section of the small intestine (duodenum) at its bottom.
Its main purpose is to break down solid food into a semi-solid consistency using stomach acid. This makes it easier for the rest of the digestive system to absorb nutrients from food.