Stomach cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancers. The disease has a poor prognosis. Life expectancy for a patient diagnosed with stomach cancer is usually 6 months. That is because the early symptoms of stomach cancer are often very vague and sometimes non-existent. By the time symptoms do appear the cancer has already metastasized and spread to other organs.
One in a million people under age 55 seeking treatment for indigestion are diagnosed with stomach cancer. One in 50 of all ages experiencing excess burping and gas (indigestion) are diagnosed with stomach cancer. Don't just assume that excess burping and gas is a result of what you ate. Especially if those symptoms continue for more than two weeks.
If you change your diet, eliminating foods that cause excess gas, and you're still burping and passing gas, it's time to see a doctor. Popping Rolaids and Tums for more than two weeks (and you haven't seen a doctor) is an indication of a more serious problem.
The bacteria H. Pylori is thought to be the main risk factor in 60-85% stomach cancers and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or excess stomach acid entering the esophagus and causing erosion and pain). If you test positive for H. Pylori, doctors will prescribe a course of antibiotics.
The symptoms of stomach cancer are very vague or nonexistent in the early stages. Symptoms include:
- Indigestion or a burning sensation (heartburn)
- Loss of appetite, especially for meat
- Excess burping and/or flatulence (passing gas)
- Abdominal pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, pain radiating to the back
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Bloating of the stomach after meals
- Weakness and fatigue
- Bleeding (vomiting blood or having blood in the stool), which can lead to anemia
- Black tarry (sticky) stools
Stomach cancer is diagnosed by passing a slender tube fitted with a camera into your mouth and down your esophagus. This procedure is called an endoscopy. Biopsies will be taken of any tumors found during the endoscopy to check for the presence of cancer cells.
The doctor will also take a series of x-rays called an Upper GI Series which requires you to drink a white, chalky substance called barium so the lesions or abnormalities in your show up better on x-rays.
Treatment for stomach cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the patient's age and general health, and the size, location and extent of the tumors. Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
As always, please consult your physician or other qualified health provider for more information. This has been your Medical Minute.
More info on the web
Stomach Cancer - Mayo Clinic
Stomach Cancer - Medline Plus
Stomach Cancer - WebMD