Stomach (Gastric) Cancer – (GC)

In Africa, GC is ranked 12th most common cancer however, in countries like Mali, it is the commonest cancer affecting men with about 92% presenting with late stage disease. It is no wonder therefore that the mortality rate of GC is an alarming 98%.

What is Stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer occurs when cells in the inner lining of the stomach become malignant (grow out of proportion). The portion of the stomach where the cancer begins determines the signs observed and the treatment options a patient can benefit from.

What are the risks for Stomach Cancer?

Anything that increases your chances of getting a disease is known as risk. Research has demonstrated that the factors that affects an individual’s chance of GC is both genetic (unpreventable) and environmental (preventable). These include:

  • Having first degree relatives who have been diagnosed with GC.
  • Age – the older one gets, the higher one’s risk of GC
  • Sex – men are more likely to be diagnosed with GC
  • Current/past infection with Helicobacter pylori
  • Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infection
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

What are the signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

These and other signs can be indications of stomach cancer or of other conditions. You should check with your doctor if symptoms persist.

  • Bloating and nausea particularly after a meal.
  • Pronounced heartburn, indigestion and stomach discomfort
  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood in stool and/or vomiting blood
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Diagnosis of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer can be diagnosed in one or several of these ways:

Clinical examination: At an advanced stage, a medical doctor will look out for the following on physical examination: fluid retention in abdomen, abdominal mass, enlarged liver and lymph nodes and bowel obstruction

Endoscopy: This is when a doctor passes a thin tube with a camera down your throat to observe the lining of your stomach for suspicious cells. If tumour cells are found, they are biopsied (taken to the lab for further test) to determine tumour characteristics, lymph node involvement and spread to other tissues.

Imaging: using equipment such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, ultrasound and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, pictures from your stomach can be created and visualized.

Treatment of Stomach Cancer

At Sweden Ghana Medical Centre, a multi-disciplinary team of Medical Oncologists, Radiotherapists, Medical physicists and Pharmacists will be involved in providing premium care to manage your stomach cancer. Other professionals who will be involved in your care include:

  • Nutritionist
  • Case managers
  • Nurses
  • Counsellors

The range of treatment an individual can benefit from at SGMC are:

chemotherapy: Use of anti-cancer drugs to shrink tumour before surgery, to mop out remaining cancer cells post-surgery or to slow the growth of cancer cells in the case of advanced disease. This can take up to 6 months.

Radiation therapy: This is the use of high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It can also be used in combination with chemotherapy drugs, known as chemoradiation, to slow the growth or prevent the recurrence of stomach cancer. In advances cases, radiation therapy can help reduce some symptoms of disease such as pain.

Targeted therapy: When standard chemo drugs don’t work, your oncologist may suggest using specific drugs that target specific genes or proteins that makes your cancer grow. Targeted therapy can slow the growth or the extent of spread of your cancer.

Other treatment include surgery to remove tumours, portions or whole stomach and immunotherapy, an approach that boosts immune cells to fight cancer.

Preventing Stomach Cancer

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and reduce intake of salted, smoked and cured foods
  • If you are diagnosed with pylori infection, ensure you complete the prescribed antibiotic course for complete eradication.
  • Avoid the use of tobacco
  • Engage in physical activity to lower your risk of stomach cancer
  • Use of NSAIDs such as Aspirin seems to reduce one’s risk of stomach cancer.