Medical factors in stomach cancer

A final instalment in a series
from the Cayman Islands Cancer Society as part of Gastrointestinal Cancers
Awareness month

There are several medical factors
linked to the development stomach cancer.

These include bacterial infection
with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection appearing to be a major cause.
Long-term infection may lead to inflammation and pre-cancerous changes to the
inner layer of the stomach.

This germ is also linked to some
types of lymphoma of the stomach.

Earlier stomach surgery is also
considered a factor if a patient has had part of the stomach removed to treat
problems like ulcers.

Pernicious anaemia can is
considered a factor in the development of stomach cancer. In this disease, the
stomach does not make enough of the protein that allows the body to absorb
vitamin B12 from food, potentially leading to a shortage of red blood cells (anaemia).

Menetrier disease leads to changes
in the stomach lining and is considered a rare factor.

If close relatives have had stomach
cancer, risk of developing that cancer increases. Some families have a gene
change (mutation) that puts them at a slightly higher risk.

Some types of stomach polyps can
also lead to cancer. Polyps are small mushroom-like growths on the lining of
the stomach. Most do not increase the risk of stomach cancer, but one type, called
adenomatous polyps or adenomas, sometimes changes into stomach cancer.

The Epstein-Barr virus causes
“mono” (infectious mononucleosis) and has been found in some stomach

Symptoms and signs often do not appear
until the cancer is advanced.

These include unintended weight
loss; no desire to eat, abdominal pain or discomfort; a sense of fullness just
below the chest bone even after eating a small meal; heartburn or indigestion;
nausea; vomiting – with or without blood and swelling or fluid build-up in the

There is no sure way to prevent
stomach cancer, but you can reduce your risk by increasing the use of
refrigeration or food storage (rather than salting, pickling and smoking foods)
and following a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits, such as
oranges, lemons and grapefruits, may be extra helpful.

Some studies have found that some vitamins
and minerals, such as vitamins A, C, and E and the mineral selenium, may reduce
the risk of stomach cancer in people with poor diets to begin with.

However, most studies looking at
people who eat healthy diets have not found any benefit. Further research in
this area is needed.

Risk may also be reduced by maintaining
a healthy weight; staying away from tobacco; getting treated for chronic H.
pylori infection and by taking aspirin.

Although using aspirin or other
drugs like it may lower the risk of certain cancers, they can also cause
serious internal bleeding and other problems in some people. Most doctors think
that the lower cancer risk is an added benefit for patients who take these
drugs for other problems (i.e. arthritis), but do not recommend taking them
just to reduce the risk of cancer.

Routine screening for stomach
cancer takes place only in some countries where stomach cancer is very common,
such as Japan and some South American countries. A series of imaging tests are
done to diagnose stomach cancer including an endoscope. Treatment may include
surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

For more information on
gastrointestinal or any cancers speak with your doctor or contact the Cayman
Islands Cancer Society at 949-7618.