Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is one of the most common and deadly cancers in India. It affects more men than women, and is more prevalent in regions where people consume spicy, salty, or preserved foods. Experts say that junk food, stress, unhealthy lifestyle and genes are the major factors behind the increase in stomach cancer cases in India.
What is stomach cancer and how is it diagnosed?
Stomach cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the stomach, a muscular organ that helps digest food. There are different types of stomach cancer, such as adenocarcinoma, lymphoma, and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs). The symptoms of stomach cancer may include persistent abdominal pain or discomfort, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, and blood in the stool.
Stomach cancer is often diagnosed in later stages, when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This makes the treatment more difficult and reduces the chances of survival. Therefore, it is important to have regular screenings for high-risk individuals, such as those who have a family history of stomach cancer, or those who have certain infections or diseases that affect the stomach.
What are the causes and risk factors of stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is not caused by a single factor, but by a combination of genetic, socio-cultural, and environmental factors. Some of the common causes and risk factors of stomach cancer are:
- Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of stomach cancer by damaging the cells that line the stomach and making them more vulnerable to mutations.
- Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can irritate the stomach and increase the production of stomach acid, which can damage the stomach lining and increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Nitrates: Nitrates are compounds that are found in some processed and preserved foods, such as bacon, ham, sausages, and pickles. Nitrates can be converted into nitrites and nitrosamines in the stomach, which are carcinogenic substances that can cause stomach cancer.
- Helicobacter pylori infection: Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that can infect the stomach and cause inflammation, ulcers, and gastritis. It can also damage the DNA of the stomach cells and increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Dietary habits: Dietary habits play a significant role in the development of stomach cancer. Eating spicy, salty, or preserved foods can increase the risk of stomach cancer, as they can irritate the stomach and cause inflammation. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, can lower the risk of stomach cancer, as they contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can protect the stomach cells from damage.
- Stress: Stress can affect the immune system and the digestive system, and make the stomach more susceptible to infections and diseases. Stress can also cause changes in the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters, which can affect the growth and behaviour of the stomach cells.
- Genes: Genes are the inherited instructions that determine the characteristics and functions of the cells. Some people may have genetic mutations or variations that make them more prone to developing stomach cancer. For example, some people may have a gene that makes them produce less stomach acid, which can increase the risk of Helicobacter pylori infection and stomach cancer.
How can stomach cancer be prevented and treated?
Stomach cancer can be prevented and treated by adopting a healthy lifestyle and seeking medical attention when needed. Some of the preventive and treatment measures are:
- Eating a balanced diet: Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, and low in processed and preserved foods, can help prevent stomach cancer. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can protect the stomach cells from damage. Processed and preserved foods, on the other hand, contain nitrates, salt, and other additives that can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake: Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake can help prevent stomach cancer, as they can reduce the exposure to harmful substances that can damage the stomach cells. Smoking and alcohol can also interfere with the treatment and recovery of stomach cancer, as they can weaken the immune system and affect the response to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Scheduling regular medical check-ups: Scheduling regular medical check-ups, especially for high-risk individuals, can help detect stomach cancer at an early stage, when the treatment is more effective and the prognosis is better. Medical check-ups may include physical examination, blood tests, endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and PET scan.
- Undergoing treatment: Undergoing treatment for stomach cancer can help remove the cancer cells and prevent them from spreading to other parts of the body. The treatment options for stomach cancer depend on the type, stage, location, and size of the cancer, as well as the overall health and preferences of the patient. The treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and palliative care.
Stomach cancer is a serious and life-threatening disease that requires awareness, prevention, and treatment. By following a healthy lifestyle, avoiding risk factors, and seeking medical help when needed, one can reduce the chances of developing stomach cancer and improve the quality of life.