Introduction to gastric cancer – Causes, symptoms, treatment and more

Introduction to gastric cancer – Causes, symptoms, treatment and more

Gastric cancer, also known as stomach cancer, begins in the stomach and affects its parts. Gastric cancer predominantly occurs in the gastroesophageal junction where the esophagus meets the stomach. The stomach has five layers of tissue: mucosa, submucosa, muscle, subserosa, and serosa. Gastric cancer typically begins in the innermost layer and spreads through the outer layers. It is important to get it diagnosed and treated in time. Let’s understand the disease in brief.

Causes of gastric cancer
There is no specific cause of gastric cancer, but several factors increase its possibility. The most important risk factors include:

Preexisting medical conditions

  • Helicobacter pylori – a stomach infection
  • Chronic gastritis – inflammation of the stomach
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Intestinal metaplasia
  • Gastric polyps
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection
  • Familial syndromes

Lifestyle habits like smoking
Male above the age of 70
Family history

Symptoms of gastric cancer
Early signs and symptoms of gastric cancer include

  • Difficulty while swallowing food or water
  • Feeling bloated after every meal
  • Feeling full even after eating less than normal
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Stomach ache
  • Sudden weight loss without any effort

Treatment of gastric cancer
Doctors use diagnostic tools like endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging tests to confirm gastric cancer and determine its stage and assess how quickly or slowly it spreads. This information is crucial for a multidisciplinary team of oncologists and surgeons to design appropriate treatment plans specific to a patient. They base this decision on the patient’s current age and health condition, along with the location of the affected organ. The standard treatment plans for gastric cancer are:

Surgery
The purpose of surgery is to remove cancer-causing cells and some surrounding healthy tissues. The most commonly used surgeries for gastric cancer are:

  • Endoscopic surgery
    Doctors use this to remove small cancers present in the stomach lining. The procedures are called endoscopic mucosal resection and endoscopic submucosal resection.
  • Subtotal gastrectomy
    If the gastric cancer is located close to the small intestine, doctors use this procedure to remove that part of the stomach and its surrounding tissues.
  • Total gastrectomy
    If the cancer is found in the body of the stomach or the gastroesophageal junction, doctors perform surgery to remove the stomach fully. They then connect the esophagus directly to the small intestine.

Doctors may also perform surgeries to look for lymph nodes and remove a part of the stomach for patients with advanced stomach cancer to relieve severe symptoms.

Chemotherapy
Doctors use one or a combination of chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells that have metastasized or spread beyond the stomach. Before surgery, chemotherapy can be used to shrink the cancer cells and kill any remaining cells. It can also be combined with radiation therapy and targeted therapy for patients with advanced gastric cancer.

Radiation therapy
Doctors use high-powered beams like X-rays or proton rays to reduce the size of cancer before surgery to be easy to operate on. If the stomach cancer is too advanced and does not permit surgery, radiation therapy can help in reducing symptoms. It can also be combined with chemotherapy based on the stage of gastric cancer.

Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drugs identify weaknesses in the gastric cancer cells and destroy them. It is combined with chemotherapy to prevent the recurrence of cancer cells.

Immunotherapy
If gastric cancer is in an advanced stage, immunotherapy uses the patients’ immune system to fight and destroy the cancer cells.

Diet for gastric cancer
The goal of diet planning for gastric cancer patients is to receive nutrition and maintain a healthy weight. Eating small meals throughout the day, eating protein-rich food, increasing a plant-based diet, whole grains, and a wide variety of healthy fruits and vegetables is important for patients recovering from gastric cancer treatment.

Limit sweets, artificial sugars, products containing food additives and preservatives, avoid red meat, stop smoking, and limit alcohol to the minimum. These have the potential to irritate your stomach and also increase the symptoms and cause pain.

Apart from eating healthy, ensure that food is prepared in a hygienic environment and well cooked. Eat fresh food and avoid leftovers to prevent infection. Keep yourself hydrated with water, light soups, and sugarless juices to prevent dehydration.

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