Stomach cancer symptoms are very deceiving and often very hard to spot.
Since symptoms of stomach cancer involve the gastrointestinal system, most people would just brush it off as mild indigestion. Stomach cancer is a very common type of cancer that affects nearly a million people every year. The mortality and morbidity rate has been steadily increasing too. Knowing which signs and symptoms you need to watch out for would be very helpful in getting you the treatment that you need. But before we dive into that, let us first take a look into the pathophysiology of the disease. This will help us to better understand what stomach cancer is all about.
Looking into Stomach Cancer Symptoms
Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is the uncontrollable growth of new cells that are usually situated in the inner lining of the stomach. Nobody could pinpoint the exact reason why it starts there. They have only observed that the most common area where these growths start to appear would be near the small intestines. However, there have also been recent studies that have shown that the location of these stomach growths have transferred to the upper part, near the exit of the esophagus.
As it progresses, the tumor might dig itself deeper into you tissues. Eventually, it would be able to penetrate your outer gastric lining and spread to your nearby organs. These would include the esophagus, liver, intestines and pancreas.
Risks for Stomach Cancer Development
As with everything involved with cancer, we cannot really pinpoint a definitive cause. We could only make an educated guess based on statistics. And statistics have shown that genetics play a huge part in the development of cancer
Environmental factors, lifestyle and diet are also considered. Among these would be smoking and alcohol consumption. It also has been said that these two factors are the reason why some of the growths develop near the esophagus.
Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that causes ulcers and most stomach inflammations. It has also been considered to be a risk factor for cancer formation. And stomach cancer has been found to be more common in men rather than women, and affecting people between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.
Signs to Watch out For
As mentioned earlier, stomach cancer symptoms could easily be brushed off as mild indigestion. Common symptoms of stomach cancer would include abdominal pain and heartburn. Listed below would be some of the most common indicators that you MIGHT have stomach cancer.
- Difficulty swallowing which worsens through time
- Abdominal pain or discomfort. Some people describe it as a feeling of premature fullness after a meal.
- Indigestion, excessive belching and/or heartburn
- Anorexia or loss of appetite. Some patients have reported having developed distaste for meat.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Health decline
- Unintentional weight loss
- Dark stools which could indicate gastrointestinal bleeding
Bear in mind that these stomach cancer symptoms are not enough to form a concrete diagnosis. You would need to undergo a series of tests to have it confirmed.
Testing for Stomach Cancer
Common testing for stomach cancer would involve the following:
1. Endoscopy – this procedure involves the use of an optic fiber scope that has a lighted camera at the end. This would help visualize you upper GI area like the esophagus and the stomach. Patients who will undergo this procedure should not take anything by mouth 4-6 hours prior to it. They would also be given a mild sedative to reduce anxiety and an anesthetic spray to numb the throat area (See: Throat cancer symptoms).
2. Upper GI Series – this is made up of a series of x-ray images of your upper GI tract, and would include the esophagus, stomach and the upper part of the small intestines. To rule out any errors in suspected masses, patients would be advised not to eat or drink anything 8 hours prior to the procedure. A few minutes before the test is performed, they would be given a carbonated drink that would help expand the stomach. They would then be asked to drink another concoction consisting of barium salt to help visualize the stomach better. This is called the barium swallow.
3. CT Scan – also known as a computed tomography scan. This provides a better way to visualize the patient’s abdomen and pelvic area. It is used to help determine the stage of the cancer. Oftentimes, when a CT-Scan is prescribed, an upper GI series is no longer needed.
Treatment and Prognosis
Treatment would vary depending on the severity of the disease. Common cancer treatments would involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, prognosis for gastric cancer varies. This would largely depend on how early the symptoms of stomach cancer have been spotted. If the tumor is spotted while it was still on its first stages, there would be a great chance of recovery. However, if it has already metastasized, we can only provide palliative care and try to control the pain as much as possible.