While rates for it have fallen worldwide, stomach cancer is still an important malady to watch out for.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 27,510 cases (17,230 men and 10,280 women) of stomach cancer would be diagnosed in 2019, causing roughly 11,140 deaths (6,800 men and 4,340 women). The rates have decreased 1.5 percent each year over the past 10 years.
Stomach cancer usually begins in the mucus-producing cells that line the stomach. The most common form of stomach cancer is gastroesophageal junction cancer, which occurs in the area where the top part of the stomach and the lower end of the esophagus meet. According to Mayo Clinic, gastroesophageal junction cancer is associated with having gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), and, less strongly, with obesity and smoking.
It mostly affects older people, with the average age at diagnosis being 68; about six out of 10 people diagnosed with this form of cancer are over the age of 65. Men are more likely to develop stomach cancer, with the ACS estimating that men have a 1-in-95 risk, while women have a 1-in-154 risk.
Symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Feeling bloated after eating
- Feeling full after eating small amounts of food
- Severe, persistent heartburn
- Severe indigestion always present
- Unexplained, persistent nausea
- Stomach pain
- Persistent vomiting
- Unintentional weight loss
According to Mayo Clinic, risk factors for stomach cancer include:
- A diet high in salty and smoked foods
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Family history of stomach cancer
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori
- Long-term stomach inflammation
- Pernicious anemia
- Stomach polyps
Stomach cancer is more common in less developed countries, but is less common in the United States. However, it was one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the world and until the late 1930s, it was the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. According to the ACS, some attribute this decrease due to the increased use of refrigeration for food storage (reducing the need for salted and smoked foods) and making fresh fruits and vegetables more available.
Mayo Clinic said while there is no clear cause for gastroesophageal junction or stomach cancer, there are steps to help reduce the risk through small lifestyle changes:
- Exercise. Regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer. Try to fit physical activity into your day most days of the week.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet each day. Choose a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce the amount of salty and smoked foods you eat. Protect your stomach by limiting these foods.
- Stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking increases your risk of stomach cancer, as well as many other types of cancer. Quitting smoking can be very difficult, so ask your healthcare provider for help.
- Ask your doctor about your risk of gastroesophageal junction or stomach cancer. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have an increased risk of gastroesophageal junction cancer or stomach cancer. Together, you may consider periodic endoscopy to look for signs of stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer can be treated through several options, including surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. The modality of treatment can depend on where the cancer started and how far it has spread. (As stomach cancer becomes more advanced, it can metastasize through the bloodstream to organs such as the liver, lungs, and bones, which makes it harder to treat.)
Trinity Health Gastroenterology includes Edmundo Justino, MD; Ira Paul Michaelson, MD; Kelly Dickinson, FNP-C; and Bonnie Ler, FNP-C. Their offices are located at Health Center – Medical Arts, 400 Burdick Expy E, Minot. For appointments or consultations, please call 701-857-7389