November is Stomach Cancer Awareness month. By the end of 2013, an estimated 13,000 men and 8,000 women will have been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the US. This type of cancer affects the stomach lining and often spreads to adjacent organs and throughout the body. Because stomach cancer is the fourth most common cancer, worldwide, and the second leading cause of worldwide cancer deaths, now is the time to discuss ways to prevent stomach cancer, and find support for those affected by this disease.
Stomach (gastric) cancer typically begins in the innermost layer of the stomach, called the mucosa. This inner lining houses specialized glands that produce gastric juices to aid in digestion. Stomach cancer begins when mucosal cells begin to reproduce rapidly and abnormally. Most stomach cancers begin as adenocarcinomas, meaning they originate within epithelial tissue that produces secretions, such as the mucosal glands in the stomach. Eventually, the cancer can spread through the entire stomach wall and may also spread to other organs in the body.
Symptoms Stomach cancer may, or may not, present mild symptoms at the onset. These symptoms often include indigestion, bloating, nausea, abdominal discomfort or feeling full before a meal is finished. Such symptoms can also be associated with a variety of other gastrointestinal illnesses, so it is important to consult your physician to determine what may be causing these symptoms.
Risk Factors Some risk factors for stomach cancer may include age, gender, ethnicity, family history, and diet. Men over the age of 55 are more likely to develop stomach cancer. In the United States, stomach cancer is more prevalent in Asian or Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans than non-Hispanic whites. Contracting the Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) bacteria has been linked to developing stomach cancer. This bacterium thrives in the stomach’s mucosal tissue, where the body’s immune cells are unable to reach. Although this bacterium does not cause symptoms in infected people, it is one of the leading causes of peptic ulcer disease and puts those infected at a higher risk of developing stomach cancer.
Prevention Early detection is key in preventing the spread of stomach cancer. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with stomach cancer, it is important to consult your physician to diagnose your symptoms. Diagnostic tests such as x-ray studies, upper endoscopies, and certain blood tests can help detect or rule out stomach cancer. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can help decrease your risk of developing stomach cancer. If you suspect you have contracted H. Pylori, seek treatment to reduce your risk factors. Additionally, it is important to know your family history and inform your physician of any hereditary diseases to help determine if you may be at risk for developing certain cancers.
Support There are many cancer support groups in the US, dedicated to helping those affected by cancer. No Stomach for Cancer is a stomach cancer support group, whose mission is to “support research and unite the caring power of people worldwide affected by stomach cancer.” Their goal is to care for and provide support for those dealing with and affected by stomach cancer. To learn more, visit their website, www.nostomachforcancer.org . In Eastern North Carolina, Southeastern Cancer Care is an organization that assists cancer patients and their families in a variety of ways. This organization provides basic living assistance, emotional support, and assistance with cancer care. To see if Southeastern Cancer Care can help you or a loved one, or inquire about opportunities to participate in fundraising or volunteer opportunities, visit their website at www.southeasterncancercare.org