Red flags of gastric cancer

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Cancer is one medical condition that is much dreaded, because it often leads to death, especially in environments like Nigeria where the healthcare system is not robust and adequately equipped. One other reason cancer is dreaded is that it is often not diagnosed early.

Cancer affects practically all tissues of the body. Hence each kind of cancer takes its name from the part of the body affected. As noted earlier, cancers that affect soft tissues of the body are less easy to diagnose. Notwithstanding this, it has been clearly established that almost all illnesses and disease conditions give early signs that can be picked up.

One type of the dreaded medical condition that affects the body is stomach or gastric cancer, which occurs when healthy cells in the stomach change and start to grow out of control. It tends to slowly get worse over many years. It can start in any part of the stomach and can spread to other areas of the body, including the liver, lungs, and bones.

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This is the most common type of gastric cancer, making up as many as 95 percent of all cases. It starts in the tissues of the stomach lining, in the cells that make mucus and other fluids.

Other types of gastric cancer

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Less common kinds of gastric cancer include ones that start in the cells of the digestive tract — carcinoid tumors and gastric sarcoma — and lymphomas, which are linked to part of the immune system called lymph nodes.

Who gets gastric cancer?

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Statiscal evidence shows that about 28,000 people get gastric cancer every year in the United States. Again, of this number of diagnosed cases, about 60 per cent of the people are over 65 years old. Men are more likely to get it than women. It was the leading cause of c ancer death in the U.S. until the 1930s, but now it’s the 14th most common type of cancer. Researchers think it may have become less common after refrigerators made it easier to store fruits and vegetables, and people began eating fewer salted and smoked foods.


Major cause of gastric cancer

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of bacteria has been identified as a major causative factor. This kind of bacteria causes ulcers and inflammation in the stomach. There are different strains, some of which have a higher risk of cancer. When you present to the hospital, the doctor as part of the disgnostic process can test to see if you have this bacteria. H. Pylori can be treated with antibiotics, which may be another reason this kind of cancer is less common now than in the 1930s. The only way to know you have this bacteria is by conducting the appropriate laboratory test. If you have a parent, sibling, or child who’s been diagnosed with gastric cancer, you should get tested.

Medical history

A person has a higher chance of getting gastric cancer if someone in the family has had it or such a person has had stomach surgery. A few medical conditions also can raise an individual’s chances developing gastric cancer. These include pernicious anaemia (when you’re very low on red blood cells because you need more B12), familial adenomatous polyposis (when you have polyps in areas like your stomach and colon), and achlorhydria (when you don’t have enough of a certain acid in your digestive fluid).

Lifestyle matters

Things you do every day can affect your chances of getting gastric cancer. Eating a lot of smoked foods, salted fish and meat, and pickled vegetables can boost your risk, along with not getting enough fruit and vegetables. You also might be more likely to get it if you smoke, drink a lot of alcohol, or are very overweight.

Stomach cancer symptoms

You may not notice any symptoms initially. Sometimes it’s not found until it has spread to another part of your body. But here’s what to look for:


Feeling bloated or full after you eat even a little

Painful heartburn and indigestion

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Nausea and vomiting

Diarrhea or constipation

Stomach pain

Weight loss for no reason

Not being hungry

Bloody or black stools

Diagnosis of gastric cancer

When you go to the hospital, the doctor will ask about any symptoms you have and do a physical exam. The doctor willl ask about your medical history and lifestyle. If the doctor thinks you might have gastric cancer, you would likely be refered to a gastroenterologist, who is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of digestive issues. The specialist will then send you for specific tests, some of are explained below.


The doctor probably will start with this test. To perform this test, a special tubular device which has a tiny camera is passed down your throat, to enable the doctor into your stomach. If anything doesn’t look right, the doctorl take a tiny piece of tissue — called a biopsy — and send it to a medical laboratory, where it will be examined under high power microscope, to look for cancer cells in the sample.

Other tests

Your doctor might suggest other ways to get a closer look at any tumor. This could be a CT (computerized tomography) scan, when several X-rays are taken from different angles and put together to make a more complete picture. Or you might have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed images.


Your treatment depends on where your cancer is, how far it’s advanced, and your overall health. In most cases, surgery to take out the tumor is the first step. Your doctor also might remove part or all of your stomach or take lymph nodes from other parts of your body to look for signs that the cancer has spread.

Radiation and chemotherapy

You also may have radiation therapy (high-powered X-rays) or chemotherapy (powerful drugs) to shrink the tumor before surgery — and possibly afterward as well to kill any leftover cancer cells. These two kinds of therapy are often used together.

Other treatments

Your doctor may suggest targeted therapy — special drugs that find and attack cancer cells without harming the healthy cells around them. They also might talk with you about immunotherapy, which helps your body use its natural defenses to fight the cancer.

• Adapted from