Stomach cancer (gastric cancer)
Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is a malignant tumour growing in the lining of the stomach.
Stomach cancer is the 16th most common cancer in the UK. It is nearly twice as common in men as it is in women.
Stomach cancer symptoms can be vague, leading to late diagnosis and a worse chance of successful treatment.
Symptoms of heartburn could be an early warning sign of stomach cancer.
Public Health England says people should see their doctor if they have heartburn symptoms most days of the week, for 3 weeks or longer.
Stomach cancers are classified according to the type of tissue where they originate. The most common type of stomach cancer is adenocarcinoma, which starts in the glandular tissue of the stomach. Other forms of stomach cancer include lymphomas, which involve the lymphatic system, and sarcomas, which involve the connective tissue. Sarcomas may arise from, for example, muscle, fat, or blood vessels.
Stomach cancer can often be cured if it is found and treated at an early stage. Unfortunately, the outlook is poor if the cancer is already at an advanced stage when discovered.
The stomach is a muscular bag with a capacity of about 1 litre. It lies along the digestive tract between the oesophagus and the small intestine. It serves as a reservoir for food eaten during meals and is involved in the digestion of food. Its inner walls are composed of glands that secrete acid and digestive enzymes.
This photograph of an adenocarcinoma of the lower part of the stomach was taken through a gastroscope and demonstrates the typical appearance of a gastric tumour with a central area of ulceration.
What causes stomach cancer?
The exact cause of stomach cancer is unknown, but a number of conditions can increase the risk of the disease. These include:
- Advanced age
- Being male
- A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables
- A diet that is high in salt, processed meats, or pickled foods
- A family history of gastric cancer
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection of the stomach. H. pylori is a bacterium that infects the lining of the stomach and causes chronic inflammation and ulcers
Stomach cancer prevention
It is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of stomach cancer, but the NHS recommends certain steps to reduce the risk:
- Eat a healthy diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- Quit smoking
- Limit the amount of pickled vegetables, processed meat and salt eaten