Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, refers to cancer of the stomach. Sometimes, this type of cancer can spread to other parts of the body. Although the causes of stomach cancer are not fully understood, research suggests that a poor diet may increase a person's risk of developing it. After diagnosis, depending on how far this cancer has spread, there are a few treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
The stomach is a major organ in the human digestive tract made up of several layers. It is located under the ribs in the upper part of the abdomen. Although stomach cancer can start in any part of the stomach, it typically begins in the inner lining, known as the mucosa. Cancer in this part of the stomach is often referred to as adenocarcinoma.
When stomach cancer is contained to just one lining of the stomach, it is classified as stage I cancer. Once it spreads to other layers of the stomach, it is classified as stage II. If the cancer spreads to every layer of the stomach, or it has spread into the lymph nodes, it is known as stage III. In stage IV gastric cancer, the cancer has spread to other organs in the body.
After affecting the inner lining, stomach cancer can spread to other parts of the stomach, including the layer of muscle and the outer layer, known as the serosa. Once the cancer begins to spread, it can possibly spread to other organs, especially those close to the stomach. Some of the most common organs to which stomach can spread are the esophagus, intestines, liver, and pancreas.
Doctors aren't sure what causes stomach cancer, but a person's diet may make him more likely to develop it. Some research suggests a link between an excess of salty, smoked, or pickled foods and this type of cancer. Studies also have shown stomach cancer cases have declined since freezing — instead of salting, smoking, or pickling — has become a popular food-preservation method.
Some people also may generally be more at risk for cancer than others. Genetics may play a role, for instance. Individuals who smoke are also generally considered to be more at risk. A history of chronic stomach problems may also make an individual more susceptible to stomach cancer.
Some of the most common symptoms of this cancer include pain, nausea, and weight loss. Individuals with this type of cancer may also notice blood in either their stools or vomit. It is also not uncommon to feel very full even after eating a snack or very small meal.
After noticing these symptoms, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible. To diagnose stomach cancer, a physician will typically perform a thorough physical examination and, possibly, imaging tests, like x-rays or CT scans. A camera may also be inserted down a patient's throat and into his stomach, which can allow the physician to see into the stomach. If any unusual spots are noticed, a biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
When a diagnosis has been made, prompt treatment is usually necessary. Surgery is one option, and this usually involves removing part of or all of the stomach. Removing a small chunk of the stomach is referred to as a subtotal gastrectomy, while removal of the entire stomach is referred to as a total gastrectomy. In the latter case, the esophagus is simply connected to the intestine. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be used.