Learn How to Reduce Your Risk for Stomach Cancer
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Learn How to Reduce Your Risk for Stomach Cancer

While it doesn’t get the same attention and media coverage as other types of cancer, stomach cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer worldwide.

Mostly affecting older individuals—the average age at the time of diagnosis is 68—stomach cancer (also known as gastric cancer) is more commonly seen in men and in individuals from Eastern Europe as well as Eastern Asia. However, an individual’s risk of stomach cancer can increase due to genetic predisposition, infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods, tobacco use and environmental exposures.

There are several different types of stomach cancer, which are differentiated based on where the cancer forms in the stomach and the type of cell that normal cells transform into.

Because there is no standard screening for stomach cancer in U.S., it’s often not found until it’s fairly large or has spread to other parts of the body.

But, even at the early stages, there are symptoms that can indicate a problem. These include:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • heartburn and/or indigestion
  • feeling bloated or full after having small amounts of food

As the disease progresses, other symptoms might include:

  • trouble swallowing
  • belly pain
  • vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • feeling weak or tired
  • black stools or blood in the stool
  • swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes

While most of these symptoms are often caused by things other than stomach cancer, if they don’t go away or get worse, you should contact your doctor to schedule an appointment. Stomach cancer is a treatable condition with an expanding number of treatment options, however ignoring symptoms could potentially delay treatment and impact effectiveness. 

There are several risk factors that make a person more likely to get stomach cancer. Some can be controlled, but others cannot.

You may be at increased risk of developing stomach cancer if you have or have had:

Previous stomach surgery

Stomach cancers are more likely to develop in people who have had part of their stomach removed to treat non-cancerous diseases such as ulcers. 

Certain types of stomach polyps

While most types of polyps do not seem to increase a person’s risk of stomach cancer, adenomatous polyps (or adenomas) can sometimes develop into cancer.

Pernicious anemia

Research has found that among patients with pernicious anemia, 0.38% were found to have stomach cancer as compared to 0.035% in patients without pernicious anemia.

Common variable immune deficiency (CVID)

Individuals with CVID do not produce enough antibodies to protect against infectious organisms; as such they’re prone to frequent infections as well as pernicious anemia. As a result, patients with CVID are more likely to develop stomach cancer.

Other known risk factors can be reduced through lifestyle changes. These measures are especially important for individuals with a family history of stomach cancer.

Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of some types of stomach cancer. Regular physical activity and healthy eating habits are both great ways to control your weight. For more on diet, body weight, physical activity, and alcohol use, see the American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Quit smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of cancers of the upper stomach (the portion closest to the esophagus). If you would like assistance with smoking cessation, the American Cancer Society provides free help and support.

Early diagnosis and treatment are critical for stomach cancer. If you or a loved one are  experiencing any of the above symptoms, please contact your healthcare provider.  

 

James Kalmuk, MD, is a medical oncologist at the Dartmouth Cancer Center at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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