Stomach cancer is caused by changes in the cells of the stomach, although it's unclear exactly why these changes occur.
Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is a malignant tumor arising from the lining of the stomach. Doctors aren’t sure what causes stomach cancer. There is a strong correlation between a diet high in smoked, salted and pickled foods and stomach cancer. As the use of refrigeration for preserving foods has increased around the world, the rates of stomach cancer have declined. This means that cells continue to grow instead of stopping when they should. Cells multiply in an uncontrollable manner, producing tissue called a tumour.
What Causes Stomach Cancer?
The exact cause of stomach cancer is unknown, but a number of factors can increase the risk of the disease, including:
Your risk of getting stomach cancer increases with age. Most cases occur in people aged over 55, with the average age at diagnosis being around 70.
People who smoke may be twice as likely to develop stomach cancer compared with people who don’t. This is because some tobacco smoke will always be swallowed when you inhale and end up in your stomach. The many harmful substances in tobacco may then damage the cells in your stomach.
Anti inflammatory drugs
An overview of published studies showed that people who regularly take non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs appear to have a slightly lower risk of stomach cancer. These drugs are called NSAIDs. Examples are aspirin, ibuprofen or Nurofen. The trials looking at whether daily aspirin can protect against health conditions.Taking daily aspirin may reduce the risk of dying from stomach cancer. This needs more research though, and regular use of NSAIDs can increase the risk of developing stomach or duodenal ulcers.
A diet rich in pickled vegetables (such as pickled onions or piccalilli), salted fish, salt in general and smoked meats (such as pastrami or smoked beef) increases your risk of stomach cancer. Countries where this type of diet is popular, such as Japan, tend to have much higher rates of stomach cancer than the UK.
Atomic bomb survivors in the 2nd World War were more likely to get stomach cancer because of the radiation they were exposed to. And we’ve known for many years that people who have had radiotherapy to the spine for a condition called ankylosing spondylitis have an increased risk.
Family history is being looked at as a risk factor for stomach cancer. Brothers, sisters, and children, of people with stomach cancer have an increased risk of getting it themselves. We’re not sure whether this is genetic, or because they share other risk factors, such as Helicobacter pylori infection.
How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed?
Your health care provider can often detect advanced stomach cancer by performing a physical exam. He or she may find enlarged lymph nodes, an enlarged liver, increased fluid in the abdomen (ascites), or abdominal lumps felt during a rectal exam.
However, if you are having vague symptoms, such as indigestion, weight loss, nausea, and loss of appetite, screening tests may be recommended. These tests may include:
Gastroscopy and biopsy
This test examines the esophagus and stomach using a thin, lighted tube called a gastroscope, which is passed through the mouth to the stomach. Through the gastroscope, the doctor can look directly at the inside of the stomach. If an abnormal area is found, the doctor will remove some tissue (biopsy) to be examined under a microscope. A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose cancer. Gastroscopy and biopsy are the best methods of identifying stomach cancer.
Upper GI series
These are X-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the intestine taken after you drink a barium solution. The barium outlines the stomach on the X-ray, which helps the doctor, using special imaging equipment, to find tumors or other abnormal areas.