As with most cancers, stomach cancer usually does not produces any early symptoms. However, you may suffer from mild indigestion or loss of weight and appetite. Eventually the symptoms will be more noticeable. Warning signs of stomach cancer may include:
- indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, or discomfort aggravated by eating.
- loss of appetite and a bloated feeling after eating small amounts.
- either diarrhoea or constipation, nausea and vomiting after meals.
- general weakness and fatigue.
- dark patches in stool, or blood on stool.
- vomiting blood.
Most stomach cancers start in tissue lining the stomach. A tumour can either spread around the stomach wall or may grow through it and disperse cells into the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Once the cancer invades other organs or areas in the body it is particularly difficult to treat and the outlook is usually grim. If treated before it spreads, stomach cancer is curable.
Quite often, stomach cancer develops at the site of an existing stomach ulcer, although ulcers do not usually cause the disease. While some stomach ulcers turn cancerous, most do not. For stomach cancer to start, something has to make normal cells mutate, or reproduce abnormally. (See the entry on cancer).
Dietary factors are said to be a major cause of this type of cancer. The disease is prevalent among people who frequently eat smoked, pickled, salted, and barbecued foods, all of which contain nitrites or other nitrogen compounds which are said to promote cancer.
Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol may slightly increase the risk of stomach cancer. But these two indulgences are partly to blame for other cancers (throat for example).
Worldwide, stomach cancer is much higher among people who work in mines and metal refineries, who inhale certain dust and fumes that contain known carcinogens.
If caught early, stomach cancer is treated surgically. Part or all of the stomach may be removed, along with any surrounding tissue and nearby lymph nodes.
Patients can have their whole stomach removed and if so will need extra vitamin B12.
Most cases of stomach cancer are too advanced when finally diagnosed to be cured surgically, but radiation and chemotherapy can often relieve symptoms, slow the disease, and possibly prolong life.
Patients with severe stomach cancer typically experience a great deal of pain. Medication can offer partial relief but there is some other therapies which may also help.
You may wish to investigate acupuncture or activities that promote relaxation such as yoga, massage, or meditation and visualisation. (See Cancer.)
Following stomach surgery, people often experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or dizziness after eating. The symptoms usually go away in a few months, but they can be reduced if you eat small meals of soft or semiliquid foods not large meals. Also do not eat sweets, and try not to drink liquids with meals.
Studies suggest that drinking green tea and eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and garlic may help protect against stomach cancer.
To prevent this illness it is best to cut out all smoked, pickled, salted, and barbecued foods.
When to seek further professional advice
- If you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms.