Happy Thursday one and all! My apologies for the real lack of interesting blog posts recently.
I wanted to kick things off with another one of my “Cancer Types” blog posts. This time I have decided to focus on the stomach. It’s a hugely important body part for us all; but what happens if cancer strikes?
The stomach is a muscular bag and forms part of the digestive system. It lies just under the diaphragm and the top part is connected to the oesophagus (food pipe) whilst the other end is connected to the duodenum (the first part of the small bowel).
The stomach has a key role: it mixing up food that has been eaten and begins to break it down so it can be easily digested.
The stomach lining contains glands which produce and release stomach juices which contain an acid and digestive enzyme known as pepsin. This then begins to digest proteins found in the food you have eaten so that your body can absorb them. The acid helps the pepsin work properly and also helps to kill any bacteria in the food.
The stomach also makes a chemical that helps the body absorb vitamin B12, which is needed to help make red blood cells as well as to keep a healthy nervous system.
Risks and Causes of Stomach Cancer:
*Almost twice as many men are diagnosed with stomach cancer then women.
*Cancer of the stomach is more common in older people; around 95% of those diagnosed with this type of cancer are over the age of fifty five at the time of diagnosis.
*Helicobacter pylori infection (a type of bacteria found in the stomach) increases your risk of stomach cancer. Although millions of people have these bacteria and most do not develop stomach cancer so other factors do contribute.
*People who smoke have TWICE the risk of developing cancer of the stomach then a non smoker does.
*Eating lots of fruit and vegetables appears to lower your risk of developing stomach cancer whilst a diet high in preserved or very salty foods increases your risk.
There is currently no screening test in place for stomach cancer.
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer:
Symptoms of this type of cancer can be quite vague. They include:
*Indigestion and burping as well as acidity.
*Bleeding as well as tiredness and breathlessness as a result of the blood loss.
*Feeling sick or being sick
*Difficulty in swallowing
*Loss of appetite
Please don’t panic after reading these symptoms; they are very common and can be indicating any number of illnesses. Please remember that only about one in every fifty of the people going to the doctor with these symptoms are diagnosed with stomach cancer. Usually they are symptoms of a minor problem. Don’t ignore any of the symptoms though – get them checked out ASAP!!!
It can be difficult for your doctor to work out if you have a suspected case of stomach cancer or something that is less serious. If they do suspect you of having cancer of the stomach then they will refer you to specialist on a two week wait protocol. This means you will have an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of the doctor referring you. They may also decide to send you for an urgent endoscopy, especially if you are over the age of fifty five, have more then one of the symptoms listed above or if you have a swelling or lump which the doctor can feel.
Diagnosing Stomach Cancer:
Many different tests are used to diagnosed cancer of the stomach. These include:
Types of Stomach Cancer:
Around 95% of all diagnosed cases of stomach cancer are adenocarcinomas which start in the gland cells found in the lining of the stomach. These cells produce mucus and stomach juices.
Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the skin-like cells which can be found mixed with the gland cells to form the stomach lining.
Rare cancers can also be found in the stomach. These include lymphoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) and neuroendocrine (NET). GIST’s and NETs can be benign as well as malignant.
Treating Stomach Cancer:
The main options for treating stomach cancer are chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
The doctor will consider your general health, the stage of your cancer, your age and your fitness levels before creating a treatment plan for you.
AS WITH ALL CANCERS: THE EARLIER YOU ARE DIAGNOSED, THE EASIER IT IS TO GET THE DISEASE UNDER CONTROL AND TREAT YOU SUCCESSFULLY.
If your cancer has not spread beyond the stomach at the time of diagnosis then surgery will almost certainly be your option. If the doctor thinks it is possible to cure you by removing part or all of the stomach then this will be the first approach in most situations. The amount of stomach removed will depend on where the cancer is positioned in your stomach.
You may also have surgery to relieve your symptoms even if the doctors don’t think they can cure you this way.
Removing your stomach is a major operation and it will have a huge impact on your life so it is important to get all the facts from your doctor before undergoing this surgery. If your cancer is located near to where the stomach connects to your oesophagus then that may need to be removed too.
If only part of the stomach is removed then you can still eat but in small portions and the remaining part of your stomach will gradually stretch over time. If you have all or most of your stomach removed then you may eventually be able to eat properly again but this will be a long process and your doctor will be able to provide you with advice on this. You will need to have injections of vitamin B12 for the rest of your life to help prevent anemia and nerve problems.
You may have chemotherapy alongside the surgery or you may have chemo on its own. Chemotherapy on it’s own is most likely if the cancer has spread and is quite advanced. The chemo will relieve your symptoms and will help slow the cancer down and prevent it from spreading further.
You may also have chemo before and/or after surgery to get rid of any microscopic cells that may be lingering.
Radiotherapy is not commonly used to treat cancer of the stomach but you may have it to relieve your symptoms and to try to shrink an advanced tumour.
Around 7,800 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer in the UK every year. Most of them are over the age of fifty five when they are diagnosed.As I mention over and over in this blog: cancer is easier to treat the earlier it is found. If you are worried about anything you have read here today then please do go and visit your GP for a check up.
Please visit www.cancerresearchuk.org for any information regarding cancer of the stomach.