About the Condition
Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a relatively uncommon type of cancer that affects about 7,300 people each year in the UK*, and occurs when the genetic material of cells in the stomach become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the stomach and move to other parts of the body.
The precise causes of stomach cancer are unknown, but several risk factors have been identified, including:
- Being over the age of 50
- Being male
- Having a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, which is a common type of bacteria. In most people, these bacteria are harmless; however, in some people, a H. pylori infection can cause conditions such as stomach ulcers, recurring bouts of indigestion or long-term inflammation of the stomach lining (chronic atrophic gastritis). Research has found people with severe chronic atrophic gastritis have an increased risk of developing stomach cancer, although this risk is still small
- Having a diet rich in pickled vegetables (such as pickled onions or piccalilli), salted fish, salt in general and smoked meats (such as pastrami or smoked beef)
- Having a family history of stomach cancer
- Having Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), which causes small growths, called polyps, to form in your digestive system. FAP is known to increase your risk of developing bowel cancer, and may also increase the risk of stomach cancer
- Having another type of cancer, such as cancer of the oesophagus (gullet) or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer that develops in your immune system’s white blood cells), you have an increased risk of developing stomach cancer
- Having pernacious anaemia
- Having stomach ulcers
- Having had previous stomach surgery
The initial symptoms of stomach cancer can be vague and be mistaken for other less serious conditions. They include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Continuous indigestion
- Sudden or unexplained weight loss
- Anaemia, which is caused by a lack of iron in the body
- Blood in the stools
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you are referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your symptoms. The diagnosis of stomach cancer involves a number of different tests and examinations. They include:
- A PET-CT scan, which combines a Computerised Tomography (CT) scan and a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan into one scan to give more detailed information about your cancer. A CT scan takes pictures from all around your body and uses a computer to put them together. A PET scan uses a very small amount of an injected radioactive drug to show where cells are active in the body
- A laparoscopy, which is where a small incision is made in your abdomen under general anaesthetic and a flexible camera called an endoscope is used to examine your stomach
- An endoscopy, which involves a long, thin tube with a tiny video camera at the end being fed down your throat to examine the affected area. This is often done under sedation, or with local anaesthetic or numbing.
- A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer
At CCL, patients with stomach cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Stomach cancer can be treated in a variety of different ways, depending on how far it has progressed, and the overall health and fitness of the patient.
- Surgery, where the affected area is removed
- Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form.
- Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease.
Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, but that it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support both physically and emotionally before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.