From Cynthia Chua, MD, OHC Medical Oncologist and Hematologist

November 26, 2018

November is a month that is typically associated with food and eating. It’s also Stomach Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates about 26,240 cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed in 2018. Although stomach cancer is decreasing in the United States, it is still one of the most common cancer types worldwide.

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, begins when healthy cells in the stomach become abnormal and grow out of control. A tumor can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can begin in any part of the stomach. It can also spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body, such as the liver, bones, lungs, and a woman’s ovaries. It’s more common in men and occurs most often in older people, with an average diagnosis age of 68.

Stomach cancer is usually not found at an early stage because it often does not cause specific symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be vague and can be caused by many other illnesses, such as a stomach virus or an ulcer. Symptoms include indigestion or heartburn, pain or discomfort in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, particularly vomiting up solid food shortly after eating, diarrhea or constipation, bloating of the stomach after meals, loss of appetite and a sensation of food getting stuck in the throat while eating.

Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. It’s best to talk with your doctor about the risks for stomach cancer and determine what you can do to reduce your risk.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Check on ulcers. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common bacteria. It doesn’t always make people sick, but it can infect your stomach lining and cause ulcers. It’s also a carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer. If you’ve got stomach ulcers, your doctor may need to check to see if you have an H. pylori infection and treat it.
  • Make sure each meal includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. That can lower your chance of getting stomach cancer. Oranges, lemons, and grapefruit are great choices. With grapefruit, though, you may want to ask your doctor if it will affect any meds you take (including statins, which many people take to lower their LDL or “bad” cholesterol level). The American Cancer Society recommends choosing fish, poultry, or beans, instead of processed meats or red meat, and whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereal, instead of refined grains (for instance, whole-wheat flour instead of white flour).
  • Cut down on smoked foods. In the days before refrigerators, people smoked, pickled, and salted food to preserve it. Large amounts of salt and preservatives can hurt the lining of your stomach and make you more likely to get stomach cancer. So, limit smoked and pickled foods, including salted meats and fish.
  • Stop smoking or don’t start. Smoking puts you at risk for many kinds of cancers, including stomach cancer. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor. And avoid other people’s “secondhand smoke,” too.
  • Exercise. Exercise is an everyday habit that pays off from head to toe. Being fit and active can lower your risk for many different types of cancers and other health problems.
  • Watch your weight. People who are overweight may be more likely to get stomach cancer. If you’re not sure whether your weight is in a healthy range, ask your doctor.

If you are concerned about your risk for stomach cancer, talk with your doctor to determine your risk and what you can do to reduce it, or visit ohcare.com or call 1-800-710-4674.

Source: OHC, National Cancer Institute, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and WebMD

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